Judge allows statement to police

Lawyers for Spanish-speaking woman say she didn't know her rights

June 01, 2007|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN REPORTER

A Baltimore County judge ruled yesterday that the statements to police by a 41-year-old woman charged in the December dragging death of a toddler whose stroller was caught under the woman's truck can be presented at trial as evidence.

Defense attorneys for Lazara Arellano de Hogue had argued that the statements should not be allowed, in part, because police had failed to properly translate from English to Spanish the woman's rights to remain silent and have a lawyer present during questioning.

The situation, the lawyers argued, made their client's statements to investigators involuntary, because she did not understand the rights detailed in the police department's standard Miranda warning. She subsequently agreed to waive the rights without understanding them, the lawyers argued.

But Circuit Judge John O. Hennegan ruled that although there were "variations" between the English and Spanish versions of the Miranda rights relayed to the defendant, those differences were "de minimis" - or insignificant.

Arellano de Hogue was indicted on vehicular manslaughter and felony hit-and-run charges in an accident that left 3-year-old Elijah Cozart dead and his grandmother, Marjorie Thomas, seriously injured. Thomas was pushing the boy in a stroller Dec. 1 across Goucher Boulevard, just south of Colbury Road near the boy's home, when they were struck by a pickup truck.

Arellano de Hogue told police that she had a green light as she went through the intersection, that she saw a woman with a baby carriage and that she felt something hit her vehicle, according to charging documents. With the stroller caught beneath the truck, Elijah was dragged nearly a mile before the driver briefly swerved into a yard on Regester Avenue, where the child's body was dislodged, according to charging documents.

Arellano de Hogue also told police that her brakes did not work because the stroller was stuck beneath the truck - and that when she was able to stop, she pulled the empty baby carriage from beneath the vehicle and drove home, according to court documents.

Police spotted the stroller - "twisted, in pieces and completely destroyed," according to court documents - in a driveway on Regester Avenue not far from where the toddler's body was found.

Prosecutor Allan J. Webster told the judge that he has made a formal plea offer to Arellano de Hogue that would cap her possible prison sentence at 20 years in exchange for guilty pleas to one count each of vehicular manslaughter and felony hit-and-run. If convicted of all charges, she faces a possible sentence of 25 years, Webster said.

Defense attorney Ricardo D. Zwaig characterized the case as a tragic accident. "In her heart of hearts, she never thought she hit a baby or a baby carriage," he said in an interview after the hearing. "She is not a woman who would just run over a child. ... The incredible thing is that if she had stopped [after hitting the stroller], we would not be here."

Scheduled to go to trial yesterday, the case was postponed until September.

jennifer.mcmenamin@ baltsun.com

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