Woman given probation for gas station theft

Published 10:37 am Monday, March 7, 2016

A local woman has been given the chance to get her life together and avoid jail time after stealing a sack of cash from a Dowagiac gas station.

3-7Sonya Baker

Sonya Baker

Judge Michael Dodge sentenced 35-year-old Sonya Louise Baker, of Dowagiac, to three years of probation Friday, for a single charge of larceny in a building. As part of her probation term, Baker is required to complete the Michigan Swift and Sure sanctions program, which includes a residential placement, and must also pay $1,984 worth of restitution for the amount of money she stole.

The charge, which Baker pleaded guilty to on Feb. 1, stems from an incident that occurred at the All Star Gas Station on Spruce Street in Dowagiac on Sept. 2. During a visit to the business, Baker noticed a bag containing $1,900 and decided to take it, concealing it on her persons as she left the gas station, Dodge said.

“You were seen on surveillance video acting suspiciously, and leaving the station with something obviously under your clothing,” Dodge said. “You at first denied responsibility but later did turn yourself in and admitted your involvement in this crime.”

The money Baker stole from the station was never returned, said Assistant Prosecutor Tiffiny Vohwinkle.

With no significant crimes on her past record, Baker’s sentencing guidelines were relatively low, at only zero to nine months, Dodge said. However, the Dowagiac woman is dealing with a number of significant issues with drug use, housing and mental health problems caused by past trauma, the judge added.

“All of these factors have put custody of your children in jeopardy as well,” Dodge said.

Prosecutor Vohwinkle, in her remarks to the judge, agreed with the recommendation from Woodlands Behavioral Healthcare’s Barbara Howes to admit Baker into the Swift and Sure program, designed to help people break free of addiction while keeping them out of jail or prison.

“I think she will benefit greatly from it, and I hope that she will take it seriously if you allow her into the program and successfully complete it,” Vohwinkle said.

Baker’s attorney, Daniel French, also urged the judge to consider probation, saying his client’s trouble with the law stems from a troubled upbringing.

“Frankly, I don’t think that [incarceration] would benefit her,” French said.

Fighting back tears while giving a statement to the court, Baker told the judge that she was grateful for the chance to be admitted into the probation program and that she “wanted her kids back.”

Despite her low guideline range, had Baker not been recommended for Swift and Sure, Dodge would have sentenced Baker to jail due to seriousness of her theft, he said.

“I hope that you are motivated to participate in this program, and that you realize there’s a lot at stake for you,” Dodge said. “I suspect if you go to jail for a significant period of time that’s going to really seriously jeopardize your ability to reunite with your children.”

Also on Friday, Dodge resentenced Niles’ Adam Saltsman to a minimum of five years to a maximum of 15 years in prison, following his appeal in Michigan court. Saltsman was originally sentenced to a minimum of six years in prison for a count of larceny in a building and second-degree home invasion in 2013. The charges stemmed from a break-in he committed at a friend’s house in May 2012, in which he stole two televisions, jewelry, a safe, several long guns and other electronic items while under the influence of drugs.

Dodge decided to slightly lower Saltsman’s initial sentence due to the fact that his original defense attorney had given him the impression he would be serving less prison time than what the prosecutor’s office had recommended to the court following a plea agreement between Saltsman and the prosecution, the judge said.

Vohwinkle noted for the record that the prosecution objected to the resentencing.

Also sentenced Friday:

• Jason Michael McWilliams, 39, of South Bend, to 18 months of probation for possession of methamphetamine and possession of analogues.

• Donald Edward Vandevelde, 51, of Edwardsburg, to three years of probation for methamphetamine-related charges.

• Sharmia Laniece Joseph, 32, of Dowagiac, to two years of probation for possession of cocaine, possession of marijuana and tampering with evidence.

• Rachael Renee Cobb-Ratz, 24, of Dowagiac, to three years of probation for delivery/manufacture of a controlled substance and operating/maintaining a lab involving methamphetamine.

• Scotty Lee Baggett, 23, of Benton Harbor, to a minimum of four years to a maximum of 20 years in prison for conspiracy to commit armed robbery, attempted armed robbery and carrying a concealed weapon.