Mom drunk too?

An already-tragic story took an ironic twist last week when the mother of a child killed in a suspected drunk-driving accident was herself arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence.

Naomi Ann Barnhart, 29, of Chico, was taken into custody Aug. 14, less than a week after the hit-and-run accident that claimed her child, 5-year-old Melody Barnhart. The original incident occurred Aug. 8 at around 8:30 p.m. at the intersection of The Esplanade and Rio Lindo Avenue. According to police, the crash was caused by Octavio Martin, 21, of Chico, who investigators said was speeding northeast on The Esplanade in a Ford Thunderbird. Police said Martin had just come from the intersection of Esplanade and 11th Avenue, where he had attempted to involve the driver of a Corvette in a race. That turned out to be a major mistake on the part of Martin, as the Corvette driver would later become instrumental in helping police capture him.

After taking off past 11th Avenue, Martin allegedly sped down The Esplanade, going at least 50 miles per hour, though some witnesses said he might have been going as fast as 70 mph, Chico police Sgt. Dan Fonseca said. When Barnhart attempted to make a left turn onto Rio Lindo in her 1987 Honda Accord, Martin plowed into the side of her car, sending the Honda flying over the curb.

Martin fled the scene but was tracked by the driver of the Corvette, who relayed his position to 911 dispatchers via cell phone. Barnhart and her daughter were taken to Enloe Medical Center, where the girl, suffering from head injuries, was transported by helicopter to UC Davis medical center. Barnhart was treated and released, but doctors were unable to revive Melody, who died a few hours later.

Fonseca said there was a suspicion at the time that Barnhart may have been drinking, so a blood test was administered at Enloe that night. Results showed she was over the legal blood-alcohol limit of .08 percent. Out of compassion, police delayed the arrest to allow the mother time to grieve. She was charged with felony child endangerment and misdemeanor DUI. Martin was charged with three separate felonies—DUI; hit-and-run and gross vehicular manslaughter.