Detroit Dad Who Let 9-Year-Old Drive: 'I'm Not a Bad Father'

PHOTO: Shawn Weimer and his lawyer David Steingold listen to 33rd District Court Judge Michael McNally during a bond hearing in Woodhaven, Mich., Nov. 1, 2011.Mandi Wright/AP
Shawn Weimer and his lawyer David Steingold listen to 33rd District Court Judge Michael McNally during a bond hearing in Woodhaven, Mich., Nov. 1, 2011.

The Detroit man who has admitted to getting drunk and having his 9-year-old daughter drive his car defended his parenting in an interview with "20/20."

"I'm not a bad father," said Shawn Weimer, 39, who pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges of second-degree child abuse and allowing an unlicensed minor to operate a motor vehicle. "My daughter's the only one that matters. I asked her if she forgave me, she says, 'yeah.'"

Weimer was arrested in October after police say his daughter told them he was drinking from a large bottle of Black Velevet whiskey, but didn't know how much. She then told police her father decided to teach his daughter to drive. Weimer said the girl drove around their street for 45 minutes before heading to a nearby gas station to refill the car's tank. Surveillance cameras caught an allegedly inebriated Weimer entering the gas station's convenience store and boasting about his daughter's driving skills.

"I was more or less bragging on how, you know, how good she was doing, than anything," he said. "I didn't have her be my chauffeur. I didn't need nothing from the store. I bought a caramel apple and a pack of cigarettes.

Police caught up with Weimer after someone saw the girl driving and called 911. The eyewitness was concerned but nonethless impressed with Weimer's daughter.

"She's driving pretty good," he told a 911 operator. "I'm telling you, I can't believe it."

When police pulled over Weimer's car, the little girl was surprised.

"The officer asked her, you know, 'What are you doing?'" said Detroit Det. Robert Grant, "and she responded to the officer, 'What are you stopping me for? I was driving good.'"

Weimer is a convicted felon with prior arrests for driving under the influence, robbery and firearms possessions. He said he pleaded guilty to the child abuse charge in exchange for probation and to avoid having his daughter testify at a trial.

The girl did give tearful testimony at an evidentiary hearing in November, saying that when Weimer asked her if she wanted to drive, "I said yes but that I would be a little scared."

Watching her testify, Weimer said, was "terrible."

"I couldn't tell her everything's going to be alright," he said. "I couldn't just take her out of that room."

Despite the guilty plea, Weimer insists that he didn't put his daughter in danger.

"It's not child abuse. We were less than a hundred yards from my house. We never went over twenty-five miles an hour. She had her seat belt on," he said. "She would have never got hurt."

"I've never even spanked my daughter," Weimer added. "I would never do anything in any way to hurt her."

Weimer said that in teaching her to drive, he was passing on a family tradition.

"I grew up on a twenty-two acre farm," he said. "That's how you got around, was a car, when you were a kid."

Weimer's lawyers argue that many parents let their children experiment behind the wheel; some even videotape the experience and put it on YouTube.

"Our city (Detroit) is very much accustomed to being behind motor vehicles and glorifying motor vehicles. And putting young people behind motor vehicles is not unusual," said lawyer Barry Adler. "Unfortunately, there was alcohol involved, and I think that's what people are, are most concerned about."

Police, meanwhile, remain firm in their rebuke of Weimer's actions.

"You cannot tell me (that it) is good judgment -- that you are intoxicated on the passenger side of a van, letting your nine-year-old child drive," Grant said.

Weimer is now allowed only supervised visits with his daughter, who is living with her mother, Weimer's ex-girlfriend. He said has quit drinking and is attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

He stopped drinking, he said, "'cause I want to be part of my daughter's life."

Watch the full story on "20/20" Friday at 10 p.m. ET.