Grandmother testifies about crash

Last witness takes the stand at Towson trial in the December dragging death of toddler

November 03, 2007|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,Sun reporter

Marjorie Thomas walked to the witness stand yesterday, limping slightly, and testified about the pain that she has suffered in the past 11 months.

She spent four days in Maryland Shock Trauma Center, had screws implanted in her wrist and a rod implanted in her leg. She used a walker for three months, a cane for three more and continues with physical therapy, Thomas said yesterday.

"I still feel pain in my leg every time I walk," said Thomas, who wore a button pinned to her blouse showing the face of her grandson, Elijah Cozart.

Thomas was the last witness called in the trial of Lazara de Arellano de Hogue, who has been charged with vehicular manslaughter and felony hit-and-run in the Dec. 1 accident that injured the 56-year-old grandmother and left her 3-year-old grandson dead.

The defense called no witnesses. Closing arguments in the case are scheduled for Monday.

According to testimony in Baltimore County Circuit Court, Thomas was pushing Elijah across Goucher Boulevard in his stroller when a pickup truck driven by Arellano de Hogue struck them both and continued on. The stroller-with the toddler still inside - lodged in the wheel well of the truck and remained there for nearly a mile, witnesses testified.

As the truck turned onto Regester Avenue, the child was ejected from the wheel well and Arellano de Hogue stopped and removed the empty stroller from the truck, according to testimony.

The pale-blue and green stroller, its cloth sides ripped and frayed and its metal frame twisted, was shown in court yesterday as defense attorney Ricardo Zwaig cross-examined Officer Tracie Eckstein, who led the crash investigation for Baltimore County police. Eckstein testified that the stroller was found near the child, who, witnesses said, was still breathing when they discovered him.

The defendant, wearing a gray sweat shirt and frayed jeans, did not testify. She answered yes and no softly in Spanish to a few questions posed by Zwaig, indicating that she was mentally sound and understood that she was not required to testify.

Arellano de Hogue, a Mexican native, speaks limited English. Two court translators have been present throughout the trial, and the defendant and two of her relatives wear headsets that enable them to hear Spanish translations of court proceedings.

After prosecutor Allan J. Webster rested his case, defense attorney Diane Goldsmith argued that the charges against her client should be dropped.

The vehicular manslaughter charge should be dropped, she said, because Arellano de Hogue's actions did not meet the definition of gross negligence and Thomas had been jaywalking.

"Ms. Thomas avoided the crosswalk. She didn't push the button," Goldsmith said. "She chose to take the shortcut."

Judge John O. Hennegan let the vehicular manslaughter charge stand, but dismissed two lesser charges: failure to control speed to avoid collision and failure to exercise due care to prevent colliding with a pedestrian.

Because Arellano de Hogue waived her right to a jury trial, Hennegan will render the verdict in the case.

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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