June 20, 2014

Charge downgraded for mother accused in son's alcohol-related death

The Belleville mother who was accused of providing alcohol to her underage son prior to his death last year in a fatal accident has struck a deal with prosecutors that likely will result in a lower sentence.

Ginger G. Zehner-Denton, 40, pleaded guilty Thursday to unlawful delivery of alcohol, a Class A misdemeanor, according to court documents.

Zehner-Denton had been charged with unlawful delivery of alcohol resulting in the death of a minor -- her son Stephen Zehner -- which was a class 4 felony.

Her attorney, John O'Gara, said he will offer his comments during the sentencing.

Stephen Zehner, 18, of Belleville died as a result of injuries sustained in a one-vehicle car crash at 2:12 a.m. Jan. 26, 2013, near Belleville. The St. Clair County Sheriff's Department has not released Stephen Zehner's blood alcohol level at the time of the crash.

Zehner's passenger, Megan Webb, who was 16 at the time, suffered serious injuries in the crash and spent three months at St. Louis Children's Hospital.

Before entering into the plea, prosecutors were in contact with Zehner's father and Webb's mother, Assistant State's Attorney Joslyn Anthony said.

"Both parents and the Sheriff's Department, which investigated this case, were amenable to this disposition," Anthony said. "At the time of the sentencing, the (state) may ask for any lawful sentence, including up to one year in the County Jail and present victim impact statements by these parents, if they wish to do so."

According to the original criminal complaint filed May 15, 2013, Zehner-Denton allegedly purchased a six-pack of beer and a pint of whiskey between Jan. 25-26 and provided the alcohol to Stephen Zehner, which resulted in his death.

Megan Webb's grandmother Sharon Webb of Millstadt declined to comment. Megan's mother Tracy Webb couldn't be reached for comment.

Court records indicate the felony charge was dismissed Thursday as part of a plea of guilty to the misdemeanor. A jury trial was slated to begin Monday. The list of exhibits included surveillance of Zehner-Denton purchasing the alcohol at a Huck's Store as well as the receipt. Zehner-Denton had faced one to three years in prison.

Zehner-Denton is scheduled to be sentenced by Circuit Judge Bob Haida on the misdemeanor charge July 31. She faces less than one year in prison.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or Follow her on Twitter @BND_JForsythe.

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