Paragraph six states: "Miami attorney Julio Cesar Perez, who represents Pronga, insists that his client was not drunk. Perez said Pronga began taking the antidepressant Zoloft because of all the "horrors and substance abuse problems" that she witnessed on a daily basis".
rmer DCF caseworker gets probation for driving drunk with baby
By Noaki Schwartz
Posted February 14 2003
Miami ? Mirla Pronga, the state caseworker who fell asleep at the wheel with a bottle of rum beside her and a hungry baby in the back seat, pleaded no contest Thursday to charges of child neglect and driving under the influence.
Pronga, a former employee of the embattled Department of Children & Families, was arrested last summer.
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Copyright ? 2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Lawrence Schwartz sentenced Pronga, of Hialeah, to three years' probation with conditions. She must undergo psychiatric and alcohol evaluation, and may be treated for both, as well as attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings if found necessary.
The judge told Pronga that she cannot have contact with children under age 18 in a professional capacity while on probation. He also ordered her to pay a $500 fine and perform 50 hours of community service. Her driver's license was also suspended for one year.
On July 25, Pronga, 56, picked up the then-7 1/2-month-old girl from a foster home to take her to visit her mother, Irene Coney. Eight hours later, the 11-year employee was found in Coral Gables drunk at the wheel of her 1995 Toyota Corolla with the baby crying in the back, according to a police report. Pronga, who was convicted of a DUI in 1993, was promptly fired by DCF.
Coney, who "was angry at the time it happened," is satisfied with her no-contest plea, said Coney's attorney, Robert Lawrence. He said the child will be back in the mother's care this spring.
"Mirla is getting the help she needs, and we feel the penalties are appropriate to the circumstances considering the child wasn't hurt," Lawrence said.
Miami attorney Julio Cesar Perez, who represents Pronga, insists that his client was not drunk. Perez said Pronga began taking the antidepressant Zoloft because of all the "horrors and substance abuse problems" that she witnessed on a daily basis.
"The only thing I want to say is what put Mirla Pronga in the position she is in today -- contrary to what the rest of the community has been told about Mirla not caring about her job and the children -- is that she cared too much," he said. "If you don't care, you don't become clinically depressed."
After Pronga was diagnosed, she asked to be placed in a different office, but DCF "still required her to come to work and drive children around," Perez said. DCF officials have said that Pronga's doctor cleared her to work.
"The one person that cared ended up bearing all the burdens of DCF shortcomings," Perez said.
But DCF observers say that if Perez's assessment were true, Pronga would not have been passed out in a car with a baby in her care.
"Well, certainly in Miami and most of the rest of Florida, caseworkers have ridiculously high caseloads, but that does not excuse any of them falling asleep with a child in their care with or without a bottle of rum," said Tallahassee-based lawyer Karen Gievers.
Noaki Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 305-810-5004.