By SCOTT WEISSER
GOSHEN — The driver charged in connection with a toddler’s May 2011 death in Goshen pleaded guilty in Elkhart County Superior Court 3 Thursday.
Daniel Pennington, 32, of North Second Street, Elkhart, pleaded guilty to a Class B felony charge of neglect of a dependent and a Class D felony charge of obstruction of justice.
Pennington admitted his guilt without benefit of a plea deal. His sentence will be left up to Judge George Biddlecome. The Class B felony carries a six-to 20-year sentence, and the D felony a term of from six months to three years.
Nearly two years ago, 19-month-old Mariah Gibson was the backseat passenger in a Jeep Cherokee SUV driven by Pennington. The girl’s mother, Mande Turner-Berger, was the front seat passenger.
Statements in court Thursday indicated Gibson wasn’t in a proper child restraint. The girl fell from the SUV as Pennington was making a left turn.
Turner-Berger initially told police her daughter had been struck by a car in a hit-and-run crash at Eighth and Bridge streets, and that she had carried the girl to a nearby home. Residents there called 911.
Gibson was taken to IU Health Goshen Hospital, where she was pronounced dead of a head injury.
Investigators determined that Turner-Berger had misled police. She later pleaded guilty to felony charges of neglect of a dependent and obstruction of justice.
Turner-Berger was sentenced to five years in the state Department of Correction. She was also sentenced to serve 10 years on probation, during which time she’s not allowed to have direct care responsibility of a child younger than 12 years old — including her surviving children.
In court Thursday, Pennington admitted to driving the SUV and having Gibson in his care. He also admitted to misleading police during the investigation.
Pennington is scheduled to be sentenced May 2.