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Sarah Knakal, charged with Mother's Day eve DWI, pleads not guilty, DA says

Sarah Knakal, 30, of Huntington Station, is led

Sarah Knakal, 30, of Huntington Station, is led out of the Second Precinct in Huntington Sunday for arraignment in Central Islip Criminal Court on May 11, 2014. Knakal is charged with aggravated driving while intoxicated with a child 15 years old or younger (Leandra's Law), leaving the scene of an incident and three counts of endangering the welfare of a child, Suffolk County police said. Credit: James Carbone

A Huntington Station mother who was drunk as she drove her children the night before Mother's Day pleaded not guilty Thursday to a 14-count indictment, the Suffolk County district attorney's office said.

Sarah Knakal, 30, had crashed into a telephone pole and signpost on East Jericho Turnpike in Huntington Station May 10, then walked away with her three daughters, ages 5, 7 and 9, Suffolk police had said.

No one was injured, police said, and Knakal was arrested 10 minutes later down the street. She was combative and pushed a police officer in the chest, prosecutors said.

Her children were turned over to family members, police said.

Knakal was indicted on several counts of aggravated driving while intoxicated with a child, endangering the welfare of a child, leaving the scene and second-degree harassment. She was held pending bail of $30,000 cash or $90,000 bond.

"This was completely out of character," said her attorney, Meredith Bettenhauser of Garden City. "She's a wonderful mother to her three girls. They adore her. She's a stay-at-home mom. Her sole purpose in life is to take care of these girls."

Knakal had been having financial difficulties and was emotionally distraught the evening of the crash because she was going to visit her mother's grave on Mother's Day, Bettenhauser said. When she was 16, she lost both her parents and broke her back when a motorist slammed into their vehicle, leaving the teenager the caretaker of her 10-year-old brother when they went to live with their 80-year-old grandmother, the attorney said.

This was Knakal's first arrest, said the attorney, who gave the judge a packet of information on the mother, including 18 letters from neighbors vouching for the woman. Bettenhauser said Knakal has been ordered to stay away from her daughters, who are with her husband, but they hope the mother's bail can be lowered.

Bettenhauser said she has asked the district attorney's office for a deal that would give her client alcohol treatment and probation: "This is a woman who needs probation, not prison time. "

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