Trial in death of boy

Woman accused of dragging toddler under truck

October 30, 2007|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,Sun reporter

Crystal Douglass was on her way home one afternoon last December when a red truck pulled up beside her at a stoplight on Loch Raven Boulevard in the Towson area.

Looking more closely, the Baltimore woman saw a stroller lodged beneath the truck. Strapped into the stroller was a little boy.

"I pointed and shouted, `You have a baby under that stroller,'" Douglass testified yesterday at the trial of the woman charged in the dragging death of the toddler in the carriage. "She never paid me any attention."

The testimony came in the first day of the Baltimore County trial of Lazara Arellano de Hogue, 41, who was charged with vehicular manslaughter and felony hit-and-run in the Dec. 1 crash that left 3-year-old Elijah Cozart dead and his grandmother, Marjorie Thomas, seriously injured.

In graphic testimony that prompted members of Elijah's family to flee the courtroom and Arellano de Hogue to dab at her eyes with a tissue, an assistant medical examiner testified that the boy suffered severe injuries consistent with his skin, bones and even some of his internal organs being scraped along pavement for a sustained period.

The accident occurred about 3:30 p.m. as Thomas pushed her grandson across Goucher Boulevard near the child's Glenmont home. With the stroller jammed in the well of the front passenger-side wheel, the boy was dragged nearly a mile before he and the mangled carriage were dislodged, according to court testimony and charging documents.

Dozens of friends and relatives of the Cozart and Thomas families attended the trial yesterday. Most wore pins with a photo of the toddler. One relative said the family did not want to comment on the case until the trial is over.

In his opening statement, prosecutor Allan J. Webster told the judge hearing the case that Arellano de Hogue did not stop before or after the accident, did not call 911 and did not attempt to help the people she hit.

"What she did was drive almost two miles," Webster said. "Her only concern was getting away and getting home to her own kids."

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.

She 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. Although defense attorney Ricardo D. Zwaig declined yesterday to offer an opening statement, lawyers on Arellano de Hogue's defense team have previously characterized the hit-and-run as "a tragic accident."

The crash and the red truck's departure from the scene left a string of motorists in horror and disbelief, according to court testimony.

Bethany McCain, who saw the accident on her way home, testified that she "was screaming and banging on my window for the truck to stop. I didn't know what to do."

Keith Hill testified that the stroller being dragged beneath the truck made so much noise that he didn't know how the vehicle's driver could not know it was trapped there.

And Douglass, who honked at the red truck and hollered out her car window, told the judge that sparks flew from beneath the truck every time it moved.

"I thought, `Maybe I ought to hit this truck to get her attention,'" Douglass testified. But she said she didn't because she could see the boy's legs sticking out from beneath the vehicle and didn't want to further injure him.

Dr. Ling Li, the assistant medical examiner who conducted the autopsy on the boy, told the judge that Elijah had seven broken ribs, three fractured vertebrae and broken bones on the left side of his pelvis. She also testified that the boy's left leg was nearly amputated, and that he had a "huge" open wound - measuring 16 inches by 7 inches - that exposed a lung, a kidney, his spleen and his small and large intestine.

"Almost half of his chest and abdomen and the left side of his body were basically scraped away," the doctor testified. She determined the manner of death to be an accident.

On cross-examination, Li said that the fractures were caused by scraping injuries consistent with being dragged rather than the initial impact of the stroller being hit by the truck.

The trial, which is being heard by Circuit Judge John O. Hennegan, is scheduled to last through the week.

If convicted of the manslaughter charge, Arellano de Hogue could receive up to 25 years in prison.



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