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Sun Sentinal - 05/16/98

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Fagan, attorneys go on offensive

Court records: Kurth twice convicted of DUI

Staff Writer

Attempting to prove Barbara Kurth was an alcoholic and a threat to her daughters, attorneys for accused kidnapper Stephen Fagan produced court records on Friday showing Kurth was twice convicted on drunken driving charges in the 1970s.

"[Kurth] has continued to allege that she had no alcohol problem," Richard Egbert, Fagan's attorney, said at a news conference.

"She's a liar. She lied then, she lies now."

Fagan is accused of abducting his daughters in 1979 and bringing them to Palm Beach County, where they started a new life with new identities. He claims he took them from Kurth, his estranged wife, for their own protection.

Court records released by Egbert show Vermont police found Kurth at the site of a car accident on a snowy afternoon in October 1978. She was "combative and extremely enraged" and had to be restrained, the records said.

A test showed that Kurth's blood-alcohol level was .23, almost three times Florida's current legal limit.

Three months later, while awaiting trial on the first DUI charge, Kurth was arrested again for DUI and leaving the scene of an accident, the records show.

Police said she struck another vehicle and fled the accident scene.

Kurth pleaded no contest to the first charge and was convicted in February 1979. She later pleaded guilty to DUI in the second incident, and authorities agreed to drop the other charges.

Kurth claims she gave up her driving privilege because she suffered from narcolepsy, but the records show her license was suspended by the Vermont courts for four years, beginning in 1979.

Egbert said the records are compelling evidence that Kurth should not have been allowed to maintain custody of Rachael then 5, and Wendy, renamed Lisa, who was 2.

"Barbara Kurth retained custody by fraud and deceit," he said.

Fagan was arrested April 16 at his Palm Beach mansion, where he was living under the assumed name Dr. William Martin. He claims he took his daughters only after receiving reports from his ex-wife's neighbors that the girls were neglected and in danger.

"This was not a custody battle issue - the only thing this was ever about was the safety and welfare of two young children," Fagan told WPTV Ch. 5 in an interview broadcast on Friday.

"At one point, Rachel went crying to a neighbor and said 'My mommy's dead, my mommy's dead. I can't wake her up,' " Fagan said.

"These things just tear you apart."

Fagan's current wife, Harriet Golding Martin, said Friday that Kurth's attorneys and family knew about her drinking problem and the drunken driving arrests but denied that there was a problem.

"We knew that there were facts out there that nobody has looked for and that [Kurth's lawyer] knew years ago that she had a known DUIs."

The release of the documents came on the same day Dateline NBC was scheduled to air a taped interview with Kurth, who is now a medical researcher at the University of Virginia.

The Kurth interview, which was taped last weekend with Diane Sawyer, was pre-empted by a special report on the death of Frank Sinatra.

During the interview, Kurth reportedly said she does not believe her daughters' assertion that Fagan intended to tell them that she was alive when the youngest girl, Lisa, turned 21.

"I think that he made up that part and told them to say it," Kurth told Sawyer. "And I can tell them that the thing I resent the most about Stephen Fagan now is that he is having them lie for him."

Kurth could not be reached for comment Friday, but her attorney said I think it is just an attempt to slur and to sully, especially given that Barbara was appearing on Dateline NBC tonight," Cherny said.

"It is pretty shallow, weak and pathetic under the circumstances."

NBC said the segment has been rescheduled for airing on Monday.

Information from Sun-Sentinel wire services and WPTV-Ch.5 was used to supplement this report.

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