Driver said she didn't know she hit child

Suspect thought she just hit grandmother, boyfriend explains

December 03, 2006|By Gadi Dechter and Julie Scharper | Gadi Dechter and Julie Scharper,Sun reporters

The Anneslie woman charged yesterday in the hit-and-run death of a toddler thought that she had only struck his grandmother and did not know that the 3-year-old was caught beneath her truck, her boyfriend said.

Elijah Cozart was struck Friday afternoon as his grandmother, 55-year-old Marjorie Thomas of Hamilton, was pushing him across Goucher Boulevard near the boy's Glenmont home. He was discovered later by witnesses nearly a mile away on a Loch Hill sidewalk. His grandmother was listed in serious condition yesterday at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Police and witnesses said, however, that the truck stopped on Regester Avenue, and a woman got out and removed a stroller from beneath the truck.

The driver, identified by police as Lazara Arellano de Hogue, 40, of the 500 block of Castle Drive, was being held at the Baltimore County Detention Center on $2 million bail. She was charged with leaving the scene of an accident, but police said additional charges might be issued. Although she has been charged, police are not releasing details of their interview with her.

Neither Arellano de Hogue nor her passenger -- her daughter, Kenya Santos, 21 -- knew that they had struck the child, according to Cirilo Mondragon, Arellano de Hogue's live-in boyfriend. Arellano de Hogue called him from police custody yesterday morning, he said.

"She say, `We think we hit a lady a little bit, but not a baby,'" said Mondragon, recounting their conversation.

Arellano de Hogue drove off because she was nervous, he said. She had seen the woman attempting to cross the street and had swerved, he said.

Arellano de Hogue was driving Mondragon's red 1999 Dodge Ram pickup home from Wal-Mart, he said.

A native of Mexico, mother of four -- the youngest of whom is 11 -- and grandmother of one, she has lived in the United States for about 30 years, he said. She was in the country legally, police said.

"She feels really sad about this because she has kids, too," Mondragon said.

The accident left eyewitnesses shaken, and friends of the victims devastated.

"That was the most horrifying thing I have ever seen in my life," said Bethany McCain, who was just feet away from the accident when it occurred. "I saw the baby's face. It was horrible."

McCain's car was advancing slowly in the left-turn lane on Goucher Boulevard at Colbury Road on Friday afternoon when she saw an oncoming pickup plow into the baby stroller, hit the grandmother and continue downhill toward Loch Raven Boulevard. "The stroller got jammed, so the truck was just pushing it," McCain said. "And then it just drove up out of sight."

McCain said it appeared that the truck tried to swerve to avoid Thomas and the stroller, but did not slow down. "The truck wasn't speeding, and it wasn't going super-slow," she said. "I was screaming for them to stop."

Sgt. Bruce Aris of the Baltimore County Police Department said investigators had not yet determined whether the grandmother was within the boundaries of a crosswalk while pushing the stroller.

Police did not say yesterday whether the Goucher Boulevard traffic signal was green when Arellano de Hogue drove through. Her boyfriend said she told him she had a green light.

Thomas was sideswiped and knocked down by the truck, McCain said. The toddler and his stroller became jammed in the truck's undercarriage, according to police, until the Dodge reached the 1500 block of Regester Ave. about three-quarters of a mile away.

Neither the driver nor her daughter mentioned getting out of the truck on Regester Avenue or removing the stroller, Mondragon said. They first learned that the child had been struck and killed when police told them, he said.

Skid marks from the truck's tires were evident yesterday on the roadway and sidewalk along Regester Avenue. The Dodge came to a screeching halt there Friday afternoon, according to one neighbor who came outside to check on what she presumed was an accident on the sharply-curved steep road lined with single-family homes.

The neighbor spoke on condition of anonymity because she said she fears retribution.

She said a female passenger came out of the truck, cradling an infant, and briefly glanced at the front of the vehicle before returning to the truck.

According to the police account, Arellano de Hogue also got out of the truck and dislodged the stroller from the undercarriage. Police confirmed yesterday that a 21-year-old woman and an infant boy were in Arellano de Hogue's pickup.

Seconds later, another car that had been chasing the Dodge from the collision scene pulled up, and its driver yelled to the neighbor to call 911, the neighbor said. The Dodge backed off the sidewalk and drove off again, said the neighbor, who jotted down the license plate number.

It was only then that she saw the empty stroller in her neighbor's driveway. When she went up to examine it, she said she noticed -- farther up the hill, in a clump of grass -- the faint motions of Elijah Cozart. "I saw him move," she said.

The boy was pronounced dead that afternoon at Good Samaritan Hospital.

With the help of the neighbor and other witnesses, police found the truck on Castle Drive, where Arellano de Hogue lives. She was arrested that afternoon and interviewed with the assistance of a Spanish interpreter.

Arellano de Hogue worked at a Rite Aid until two years ago when she fell and hurt her back, Mondragon said, adding that she takes pain medication regularly.

In a quiet section of Hamilton yesterday, neighbors recalled Elijah Cozart as a shy boy but playful. "I used to see him in the yard, chasing the kitty cats," said Robin Holland, who lives across the street from Marjorie Thomas. "It breaks my heart.

"How tragic, the little baby."

Until recently, Thomas' daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren lived with her, according to neighbors.

Efforts to reach the child's parents yesterday were unsuccessful.

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