Wednesday, July 26, 2000

Driver, 16, won't be tried as adult

Delhi girl admits fatal crash charges

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The young Delhi Township driver whose hill-hopping car crash last month left two girls dead, will not be tried as an adult but could be kept in detention until she's 21.

        The girl, 16, admitted in Hamilton County Juvenile Court Tuesday to two charges of aggravated vehicular homicide and three counts of vehicular assault.

        The Enquirer does not identify juveniles charged with crimes.

        The teen agreed to the pleas after Juvenile Court Judge Sylvia Hendon decided the case would not be transferred to the adult legal system.

        The judge also ordered the girl to remain virtually confined to her parents' house until another hearing next month.

        Judge Hendon, who also lives in Delhi Township, said she thinks the west-side community has worked through its initial shock and has begun the healing process. But she said she didn't think people there were ready yet for the young driver to be seen out and about.

        More than 50 friends and family members of the driver and the dead girls — Kelli Ridenour and Anna DeStefano, both 13 — crowded the courtroom Tuesday. Many cried and passed around boxes of tissues as they listened as the driver was described as shy, kind and an average student who tried hard in school despite a learning disability that makes it difficult for her to read.

        When she got into the Jeep Cherokee on June 9 and let 10 others pile in too, her aunt testified, she was simply trying to impress a younger sister.

        Assistant prosecutor Tricia Landthorn argued that that girl should have known her actions would be dangerous and unsafe. Allowing 11 people in a vehicle meant for five indicates recklessness, she said.

        Ms. Ridenour and Ms. DeStefano were the last two people to get into the Jeep that day. Shortly afterward, prosecutors said,othe driver, who had been hill-hopping on Hillside Avenue earlier in the day, approached the road again and told her passengers to brace themselves by putting their hands on the ceiling.

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

        A licensed driver for only two weeks at the time of the wreck, the girl has no prior criminal record, the judge said Tuesday, and no history of behavior problems at school. The judge said those factors helped her to decide the case should remain in juvenile court.

        She called the accident “a hideous, hideous mistake” and said the decision was one of her most difficult. But she had the support of three of the dead girls' parents.

        Only Dean DeStefano, Anna's father, suggested adult court would be better.

        “I was told to tell how I feel,” Mr. DeStefano said to the judge. “How do I feel? Well, I miss my baby. I feel I was robbed of watch ing her grow up.”

        Doug Ridenour, Kelli's father, urged the opposite. Since no punishment can bring the girls back, he said, the driver should be kept where she can get the most help.

        Another hearing was set for Aug. 16. Then, Judge Hendon is expected to decide on the girl's punishment.

        Until then, the girl continues to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet that would automatically notify the court if she leaves home except for appointments with her lawyer, the court and her therapist.


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