Mascoutah mother accused of providing alcohol for teen son killed in crash

News-DemocratMay 17, 2013 

The mother of an 18-year-old Belleville West student killed in a car crash earlier this year now faces charges related to the crash.

Ginger Zehner-Denton, 39, of Mascoutah, is charged with unlawful delivery of alcohol, a class 4 felony.

Zehner-Denton is the mother of Stephen Zehner, 18, of Belleville who died as a result of injuries sustained in a one-vehicle car crash at 2:12 a.m. on Jan. 26 in unincorporated Belleville.

No lawyer is listed for Zehner-Denton in court records, and she could not be reached for comment on Friday.

St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson said Zehner-Denton is not in custody. "She kind of knew what was going on," he said. "I don't think she's in the area right now."

A St. Clair County judge set Zehner-Denton's bail at $100,000. According to the criminal complaint filed Wednesday, Zehner-Denton allegedly purchased a six-pack of beer and a pint of whiskey between Jan. 25 and 26 and provided the alcohol to Zehner. "The death of Stephen Zehner occurred as a result of such delivery," the court records state.

Zehner, who was driving at the time of the crash, was pronounced dead at St. Elizabeth's Hospital.

Lt. Scott Weymouth with the sheriff's department said he couldn't release Zehner's blood alcohol level because it was evidence in the case.

Zehner's passenger, Megan Webb, 16, of Belleville, sustained serious injuries in the crash and spent three months at St. Louis Children's Hospital.

Megan, who also attends Belleville West, was released from the hospital last month and now attends a day rehabilitation program at Ranken Jordan, a specialty pediatric hospital in Maryland Heights, Mo.

Megan's mother, Tracy Webb, of Belleville, said she didn't want to comment on the charges filed against Zehner-Denton.

Megan's grandmother, Sharon Webb, of Millstadt, said she thinks charges are warranted against Zehner-Denton if she provided alcohol to her son.

She said she is "still hurt and suffering" from what happened to Megan.

"My granddaughter will pay for this the rest of her life," Sharon Webb said. "She'll never be the same."

Zehner's half sister, Crystal Zehner, 23, of Belleville said her father, Ted Zehner, and Zehner-Denton divorced when Stephen was younger.

"My dad has worked so hard to pull Stephen away from bad intentions, and it ended up not even working out," Crystal Zehner said. "It's really devastating."

Ted Zehner, of Belleville, said he got full custody of Stephen about five years ago when he was in the eighth grade.

"He didn't want to see her," Ted Zehner said of Ginger Zehner-Denton. "That's why she was buying him alcohol. That was one way she could see him was to buy liquor for him."

He described his son as a "very active person.

"He was involved in everything," he said. "He was very energetic and always wanted to learn."

Ted Zehner said Stephen was interested in building houses and wanted to go to college for welding or carpentry.

Ted Zehner wanted to thank community members for the support he's received since his son's death, including a benefit at Bel-Air Bowl in February.

"The benefit was great. It was overwhelming, all the people," he said. "I want to thank everyone for doing everything they have done."

Ted Zehner said the money raised was used to cover funeral expenses as well as a bench to be dedicated as a tribute to his son at Belleville West High School.

Watson said Stephen Zehner's death is a "tragedy that could have been avoided.

"Alcohol is very serious. Drinking and driving is very serious," he said. "This could have been avoided if this child wasn't drinking and driving."

The St. Clair County Sheriff's Department spent more than three months investigating the crash.

"We took it very seriously," Watson said. He praised Investigator Brian Cregger's commitment to the case and his determination to uncover the truth.

"This was a tragedy, and it could have been avoided if legal-age people wouldn't give alcohol to minors," Watson said. "We have enough problems with legal-age people drinking and driving. We surely don't need to give alcohol to our youth."

Anyone with information on Zehner-Denton's whereabouts should contact St. Clair County Sheriff's Department at 277-3500. If convicted, Zehner-Denton faces one to three years in prison.

Sharon Webb said she hopes this serves as a "lesson to parents who give their children alcohol.

"I understand children do drink," she said, "but it shouldn't be provided by adults who know better."

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.