Hearing today in toddler's death

Criminal charge possible in accident

December 04, 2006|By Chris Emery | Chris Emery,sun reporter

A bail hearing is scheduled today for the woman charged in the hit-and-run dragging death of a toddler whose stroller was struck at a Towson intersection and caught under the pickup truck she was driving.

Lazara Arellano de Hogue, 40, could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $5,000 fine if convicted of leaving the scene of a fatal accident, attorneys familiar with such cases said yesterday. Police said earlier that other charges might be lodged in connection with the incident.

The vehicle struck Elijah Cozart, 3, and his grandmother, 55-year-old Marjorie Thomas, as she pushed him in a stroller across Goucher Boulevard near the boy's Glenmont home, Baltimore County police said.

The boy was dragged underneath the truck for nearly three-quarters of a mile before tumbling free, according to police. He was pronounced dead at Good Samaritan Hospital shortly afterward.

Arellano de Hogue was arrested at a home in the 500 block of Castle Drive where she was living with her boyfriend, Cirilo Mondragon. He said Saturday that she was driving his red 1999 Dodge Ram pickup home from Wal-Mart with her daughter Kenya Santos, 21, as a passenger. Police said an infant boy was also riding in the truck.

Steven D. Silverman, a Baltimore attorney, said yesterday that the hit-and-run charge on which the woman was being held is considered a traffic violation, not a criminal offense. But he and other lawyers interviewed by The Sun said that would change if authorities charge her with vehicular manslaughter, a criminal offense carrying heavier penalties, if they conclude that Arellano de Hogue was grossly negligent.

"But that is much more difficult to prove," said Silverman, whose firm defends clients charged in traffic cases, particularly those that are alcohol-related. "It usually involves two simultaneous acts of negligence, such as drinking and speeding excessively."

However, leaving the scene of a fatal accident might be considered a form of negligence, lawyers said. "She had a duty to stop and remain at the scene," said James E. Crawford Jr., another Baltimore attorney who defends people charged with traffic violations.

Arellano de Hogue was being held over the weekend at the Baltimore County Detention Center on $2 million bail.

Elijah's parents, Marsha C. Cozart and Kevin L. Cozart, declined to talk to reporters yesterday.

"They are devastated," said Susanna Stafford, a family friend. "We're all devastated. It's too much to understand."

She said the family is preparing a public statement and would begin making preparations for the boy's funeral service today.

"You think about calling a funeral home to arrange a child's funeral, and it just doesn't make sense," Stafford said.

The grandmother was flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center. The hospital would not divulge her condition last night.

According to police accounts, the toddler tumbled free of the pickup truck as it descended a steep section of the 1500 block of Regester Ave. The truck then stopped on Regester, and a woman got out of the vehicle and dislodged the stroller from its undercarriage, police said.

A woman holding an infant also got out of the truck and looked underneath, witnesses said. Both women got back in the truck and drove away.

Witnesses took down the truck's license plate number and found the boy on a hill in a clump of grass near the road. They said he was moving slightly.

Police said they tracked the truck to Castle Drive, where they arrested Arellano de Hogue.

Arellano de Hogue said she had swerved to avoid hitting the grandmother and did not realize she had struck the boy, according Mondragon, who said she called him from police custody Saturday.

chris.emery@baltsun.com

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