Thursday, July 13, 2000

Driver, 16, may be tried as adult

Prosecutor says girl 'jumped' Jeep

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Jessica McCoy and her mother Terry look at balloons and flowers that mark the crash site on Hillside Avenue where two teens were killed.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
        Before she touched the gas pedal, the 16-year-old driver turned to face her 10 young passengers.

        She told them not to worry, prosecutors say. She promised they were in for an exciting ride.

        Less than 30 seconds later, her Jeep Cherokee was in ruins, two girls were dead and several others were strewn along a winding road in Delhi Township.

        Prosecutors say the teen-age driver should pay for the damage with a possible prison sentence.

        At a hearing Wednesday in Hamilton County Juvenile Court, prosecutors said the Delhi Township girl's conduct on June 9 was so reckless she should face charges in adult court.

        The girl, who is not being identified because she is a juvenile, is charged with aggravated vehicular homicide. The crash occurred, prosecutors said, when the girl lost control of the Jeep while “hill-hopping” on a treacherous, narrow stretch of Hillside Avenue.

        The teen drove at speeds approaching 60 mph, causing the Jeep to go airborne as it went over hills, said assistant prosecutor Tricia Landthorn.

        If prosecutors succeed in moving the case to adult court, a conviction could send the girl to prison for close to 10 years. In the juvenile system, she could remain in custody only until she is 21.

        Prosecutor Mike Allen said the severity of the accident and the actions of the driver justify his decision to seek a trial in adult court.

        “This was not a normal, irresponsible act of driving,” Mr. Allen said. “You have two people dead. You have eight people injured.”

        The prosecutor's decision means Judge Sylvia Hendon must hold another hearing July 25 to determine whether the girl should be sent to adult court.

        She is charged with two aggravated vehicular homicide counts because the crash caused the deaths of two 13-year-old passengers, Anna Destefano and Kelli Ridenour. She also faces five counts of vehicular assault because five of the 10 passengers suffered serious injuries, ranging from broken bones to concussions.

        Although the judge heard no testimony Wednesday, she listened as prosecutors described their evidence and the statements they took from witnesses.

        As prosecutors spoke, Judge Hendon looked over photos of the accident scene and shook her head.

        “This is an extremely traumatic situation for everyone,” she said.

        Ms. Landthorn said the trouble started that day when the Jeep's driver stopped to pick up several girls, most of them 13-year-old friends of her younger sister. The girls piled into the Jeep, at one point crowding four to a seat. No one but the driver was wearing a seatbelt.

        Kelli and Anna were the last two girls to get into the car, Ms. Landthorn said.

        She said the driver had been hill-hopping on Hillside earlier that day and wanted to do it again. As the teen approached the road, Ms. Landthorn said, she told her passengers to brace themselves by putting their hands on the ceiling of the Jeep.

        The girl promised it would make the ride “that much more exciting,” Ms. Landthorn said.

        The Jeep sped down the road once and then turned around to make another pass. On the second time down, Ms. Landthorn said, the driver lost control. The Jeep skidded across the road, struck a utility pole, rolled over several times and finally came to rest in an embankment.

        The girl has told police she was going about 40 to 45 mph before the crash, but police estimates put the speed as high as 60 mph.

        The driver's attorney, David Parker, said his client has needed psychological counseling since the accident.

        Judge Hendon allowed the girl to remain free on bond until the next hearing, but she told her she could leave the house only for school and counseling.

        Although the victims' families declined comment Wednesday, Mr. Allen said he spoke to them last week about his decision to pursue a trial in adult court.

        “They deferred to us,” Mr. Allen said. “They were very supportive of whatever action we would take.”


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