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Palm Beach Post - 06/04/98

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Kurth's license suspended in '79 after 2nd DUI conviction

By George Bennett and John Holland Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

BOSTON - Barbara Kurth was twice convicted of driving under the influence in Vermont during the year before ex-husband Stephen Fagan snatched their two daughters - evidence Fagan's lawyers trumpeted Friday as proof he was justified in taking the girls.

Fagan, arrested on kidnapping charges last month at his Palm Beach mansion after 18 1/2 years on the run using the name William S. Martin, has maintained he removed the girls from Kurth's home in 1979 because she was an unfit parent with a drinking problem.

Fagan attorney Richard Egbert called a news conference Friday to say the Varmont convictions bolster sworn statements by three of Kurth's neighbors in 1979 who said she often appeared drunk and allowed her daughters Rachael, then 5, and Wendy, then 2, to wander around the neighborhood hungry and unclothed.

Kurth and her attorneys have disputed the neighbors' statements. They also have said Kurth suffered from the sleep disorder narcolepsy, which can cause a person to pass out and appear drunk.

Court records show Kurth had a 0.23 percent blood-alcohol level - more than twice the 0.10 percent limit in Vermont at the time - on Oct. 14, 1978, when she was involved in an accident in Shelburne, Vt., near her family home in Burlington, on Oct. 14, 1978. That's more than twice the 0.10 limit allowed in Vermont at the time.

Kurth disputed the blood-alcohol reading but eventually pleaded no contest on Feb. 26, 1979, to the misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence. She paid a $125 fine at the Vermont District Court in Burlington.

She definitely felt at the time she had not enough to drink to have that blood-alcohol level, recalled Richard Thomas, the attorney who represented her.

While awaiting trial in that case, Kurth was involved in an accident Jan, 17, 1979, in New Haven, Vt. A police officer said in a sworn statement he saw Kurth fall down twice in the snow and walk unsteadily. She also smelled of alchol and her speech was "thick," the officer's affidavit said. Court records make no mention of blood-alcohol content in that case.

Kurth pleaded guilty on June 27, 1979, to a misdemeanor DUI charge for the New Haven incident and was fined $200 at the District Court in Middlebury.

Kurth Lived in North Adams, Mass., and had a Massachusetts driver license under the name Barbara Fagan in 1979. The Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles suspended her right to drive in the state for three years after the second conviction.

Kurth and her current attorneys could not be reached Friday.

In an interview with The Palm Beach Post this week, Kurth said she had been arrested a few times for driving under the influence but said she was never convicted.

"I wasn't convicted of any kind of driving under the influence. They won't have convictions. As usual, the don't have the documents proving anything they are saying, " Kurth said Tuesday.

But Kurth added that she might have pushed some things from her memory.

"One of the reasons I can't answer some of these things is I have spent so many years trying to forget all of the bad stuff, I spent so long trying to forget, to be able to think of good things with my daughters and forget the bad things with Stephen. "Kurth said. "I consciously made myself forget them."

Fagan, in brief interview WPTV-Channel 5 taped at his home Friday, restated his argument that his daughters were being abused and neglected.

"There's a 5- and a 2-year-old crying for food, going out, going to neighbors' houses, as others said, asking to be fed. At one point Rachael said 'My mommy's dead, my mommy's dead, I can't wake her up. 'These things just tear you apart. "Fagan said.

The DUI convictions don't necessarily prove Kurth was an unfit parent or justify Fagan taking the girls and concealing their identities, said attorneys in Florida and Massachusetts familiar with family law.

In partial agreement was Fagan's West Palm Beach lawyer, David Roth, who represents many clients accused of drinking and driving.

"A couple of DUIs does not necessarily make a person an unfit parent, "Roth said, But he said Kurth's convictions "combined with the apparent abhorrent neglect of the children is an entirely different scenario."

Originally published in the Palm Beach Post on Saturday, May 16, 1998.

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