By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
A 21-year-old woman was charged yesterday with hitting and killing a woman with a car that wasn’t hers and that she wasn’t licensed to drive before fleeing the scene.
However, the accused has paid half of $11,000 in fines to avoid going to prison.
Attorney Leon Bethel confirmed that his client, Shawna Smith, paid some $5,500 to avoid spending a year in prison for hitting and killing Dianne Morgan on Sea Link Drive with her friend’s car on February 25.
The car’s owner, Delanique Johnson, also paid half of the $500 she was fined for allowing Smith to drive the car despite her only having a learner’s permit, and despite her not being covered against third party risk insurance.
The prosecution claimed that after striking and killing 48-year-old Morgan, Smith refused to remain at the scene and continued driving, and that a witness to the accident had to follow her in their vehicle and inform her she had struck two pedestrians.
But when the witness told her what she had done, Smith then led the witness on a “high-speed” chase in the South Beach area before eluding the witness and abandoning the car somewhere in South Beach Estates.
However, Mr Bethel maintained that his client did not intentionally flee the scene, but claimed she did drive to a next corner and also ran through some bushes to escape a man who was “hostile” with her and threatened to haul her off to prison for hitting the two pedestrians.
Nonetheless, Mr Bethel said the fatal accident served as a bitter ending to what was supposed to be a simple trip to a nearby gas station for Smith and her friend before work that morning.
Before that information was revealed in court, Smith pleaded guilty to one count each of killing in the course of dangerous driving; failing to remain stationary after an accident; driving while not covered against third party risk insurance; and driving without a valid driver’s licence.
Johnson, meanwhile pleaded guilty to one count each of permitting a person to drive without being covered against third party risk insurance, and permitting a person to drive without them being the holder of a valid driver’s licence.
According to the summary of the facts read by the police prosecutor, Inspector Claudette McKenzie, around 6.30am on the date in question, police received reports of a traffic accident at Sea Link Drive involving a car and two pedestrians, Kevin Wilkinson and Morgan.
Morgan was said to be unresponsive, and the vehicle involved had fled the scene. As a result of that information, officers from the East Street South police station visited the scene and confirmed what was reported to police control room. Involved was a tan 2008 Nissan Cube, licence plate #AR-4205 registered to Johnson and Valentino Woodside, and driven by Smith.
EMS was called and upon arrival at the scene, immediately rendered medical assistance to Mr Wilkinson and Morgan. Morgan died at the scene, having suffered multiple injuries, inclusive of blunt force trauma to the head and torso. Mr Wilkinson, meanwhile was taken to hospital by ambulance where he remained for a week.
Investigations subsequently confirmed that at the time of the collision, the car in question was travelling east on Sea Link Drive when it struck both pedestrians, who were walking in a westerly direction on the southern side of the street.
Smith failed to remain stationary in accordance with the law and fled. A witness to the accident followed her until she stopped and told her she had struck two pedestrians and refused to stop. However, she subsequently led the witness on a “high-speed” chase before eluding the witness and abandoning the car in a yard off Bougainvillea Drive.
However, Mr Bethel painted a different picture of what occurred on the date in question. He said that morning, Smith had left in Johnson’s car to go to a nearby gas station. He said Smith “took a chance” to do so because Johnson had not awoken as yet, and they both had to be ready for work at 8am.
Mr Bethel said Smith told him that she is accustomed to seeing pedestrians walking in the area, but did not see anyone walking as she drove along Sea Link Drive, which he noted has no sidewalks. Mr Bethel said as she drove to her intended destination, a “big glare of light” from the morning sun shone through the windshield and in his client’s face. He also said the car’s front windshield was foggy.
Mr Bethel said his client leaned forward in a bid to clean the windshield so she could see better, but simultaneously drove over a speed bump and lost control of the vehicle. The car swerved to the right side of the road, though she gained control and guided it back to the other side. However, Mr Bethel said it was at that time that she heard a “bump” hitting the car.
Mr Bethel said Smith stopped the car, shortly after which a male ran up to her, shouting at her and threatening to drag her off to prison for striking the two pedestrians. Mr Bethel said Smith told him the man was “hostile”, so she drove through the next corner which was not too far away from the accident, where she contacted a senior police officer by phone, as well as himself.
Mr Bethel said Smith was instructed to stay put, though she indicated she was afraid because the police were not on the scene. Nonetheless, she remained, and the person who collected her turned her over to her attorney, who then took her back to the scene on Sea Link Drive, some two corners away.
Mr Bethel said while there, Smith was “very, very concerned” about the reports that she had struck two pedestrians, and in the presence of a “number of police officers”, expressed her concerns for the pedestrians’ condition. Mr Bethel said Smith “cried out aloud” and prayed to “God almighty” that the pedestrians were okay.
However, Magistrate Kara Turnquest-Deveaux fined Smith $10,000 for killing in the course of dangerous driving; $500 for failing to remain stationary after the accident occurred; and $250 apiece for not being covered against third party risk insurance and driving without a valid driver’s licence. She faces one year in prison if the fines are not paid in total.
Meanwhile Johnson, the car’s owner, faces three months in prison if her fines are not paid.