SUNBURY — A Watsontown mother accused of causing her 21-month-old child brain damage by leaving her inside a hot car for six hours last summer avoided a trial this week by pleading no contest to one count of aggravated assault.
Tonia Lee Sones, 25, spent nearly an hour in jury selection in front of President Judge Charles Saylor and more than 100 potential jurors on Monday morning in Northumberland County Court. During the first break of the day around 10:15 a.m., Sones decided to avoid a trial and plead no contest to a felony count of aggravated assault of a victim less than six-years-old. In pleading no contest, Sones does not admit guilt but acknowledges there is enough evidence to find her guilty if the case proceeded to trial.
Sones will be sentenced following a pre-sentence investigation within 90 days. As part of the plea deal, she will likely be sentenced within the standard range of six to 14 months with a maximum county prison sentence of 23 1/2 months. The maximum sentence is up to seven years and a $15,000 fine.
Sones was facing three felony counts of aggravated assault and three misdemeanor counts simple assault, endangering the welfare of children and recklessly endangering another person after a June 1, 2018, incident, according to state police in Milton.
Sones told police she went inside to shower before going to a doctor's appointment, according to the documents. She told police her daughter didn't sleep well the night before and had fallen asleep in the back seat when she picked her up from her mother's house, according to troopers.
Troopers said Sones told them she went inside, took a shower and must have fallen asleep before waking up and rushing outside to find her daughter having a seizure.
In medical records obtained by police, the results of an MRI scan were "consistent with heatstroke and brain swelling and brain damage."
Troopers said temperatures climbed from 71.1 degrees just before 7 a.m. to 82 degrees at 12:54 p.m., with a heat index of 84.9 degrees.
Assistant District Attorney Julia Skinner, the lead prosecutor in the case, said the child turns three on Aug. 23 and is living with her maternal grandmother.
"There have been some improvements, but she still has long-term, lifelong injuries," Skinner said.
Skinner listed 14 witnesses that would have testified during the trial, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. Among those witnesses were police officers, emergency communications personnel, doctors, EMTs, county Children and Youth employees and family of Sones.
Skinner reserved further comment until the sentencing hearing.
Sones, represented by attorney Kyle Rude, of Williamsport, offered no statements in the courtroom, only answering Saylor's questions.