Woman avoids jail after son dies in hit-and-run

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 26, 2011 2:38 PM
Woman avoids jail after son dies in hit-and-run

By Matthew Bigg

MARIETTA, Georgia (Reuters) - A U.S. woman convicted of vehicular homicide after her 4-year-old son was killed in a hit-and-run accident was sentenced Tuesday to 12 months probation rather than a potential jail term.

The case drew national attention because Raquel Nelson faced as much as three years in prison, far more than the six months served by the driver of the van who hit the boy and also injured Nelson and her daughter in April 2010.

The boy was killed after he slipped from Nelson's grasp as they crossed a road to get from a bus stop to their apartment building in a city north of Atlanta.

Nelson was charged because she did not cross at a designated crosswalk. An all-white jury convicted Nelson, who is black, of second degree vehicular homicide and other misdemeanor offenses.

Her lawyer David Savoy said the driver was drinking and had taken painkillers on the night of the accident and also was mostly blind in one eye. He had a prior conviction for a hit-and-run accident, Savoy said.

"For vehicular homicide in the second degree you don't have to be driving a vehicle. It requires that you caused the death of another," Savoy told Reuters. "She 'caused' the death of another. How tragic is that?"

Judge Kathryn Tanksley, who also ordered Nelson to perform 40 hours of community serve and pay a $50 fine, invoked a little-used Georgia law to offer her a new trial at the end of a hearing in which character witnesses and spectators wept.

Savoy and other character witnesses described Nelson as an exemplary mother shattered by the accident for which she blamed herself. Nelson thanked the court but declined to say whether she would accept the offer of a new trial.

Some spectators said the judge should have voided the sentence in a case that should never have been prosecuted.

Sally Flocks of the group Pedestrians Educating Drivers on Safety said the case exposed a lack of consideration for pedestrians in a state with a car-centric culture.

Most users of buses in Marietta, a largely white and conservative community north of Atlanta, are black and on low incomes, said Flocks.

"There probably wasn't a lot of empathy among the jurors. (At trial) they asked people had anyone used public transport in metro Atlanta," she said. "Nobody raised their hand."

(Writing by Matthew Bigg, editing by Tom Brown and John O'Callaghan)