The woman driving a truck that struck and then dragged a toddler in a stroller for nearly a mile was convicted of vehicular manslaughter yesterday, after the judge hearing the case said the boy would likely still be alive if the driver had only stopped.
Lazara Arellano de Hogue should have known that a stroller was stuck under her truck and that a child could be strapped inside, Baltimore County Circuit Judge John O. Hennegan said in announcing his verdicts.
"You don't want to believe this evidence," the judge said. "It's a little bit overwhelming that she really should have known what was going on when she turned a blind eye to it."
Witnesses who saw the red truck run down a grandmother pushing a baby carriage across Goucher Boulevard in December testified that they honked at the driver, pointed and hollered out their car windows that there was a stroller stuck beneath her vehicle.
Other witnesses told the judge that the carriage was lodged so tightly that one front wheel locked up and stopped rotating and that the scraping and screeching noises it made could be heard even after the truck was out of sight.
The judge's verdicts - announced after nearly 45 minutes of his comments on the evidence and the applicable law - brought to an end an emotional six-day trial filled with tears and graphic testimony about a traffic accident that many witnesses said remains with them nearly a year after it occurred.
Arellano de Hogue, 41, stared straight ahead and showed little emotion as the string of guilty findings was announced. Relatives and friends of 3-year-old Elijah Cozart's family wept softly on the other side of the courtroom.
"When this first happened, we didn't believe anyone in their right mind could do this," Kevin Cozart, Elijah's father, said outside the courthouse after the hearing. "I didn't want to believe that another human could do that to someone." Both he and his wife described the past 11 months as a nightmare.
"Even though the verdicts will not bring back Elijah, I'm glad she's off the street and not free to walk around," Marsha Cozart, the boy's mother, said.
During his closing argument yesterday morning, prosecutor Allan J. Webster told the judge that the initial crash on Goucher Boulevard near Colbury Road was an accident.
"I will give you that terminology for what happened at that intersection. I will give you that," the prosecutor said. "But what happened after that can't be any farther from the meaning of the word accident."
Arellano de Hogue continued driving for nearly a mile until the truck crashed on a side street, dislodging the boy, who had been strapped inside the stroller, according to trial testimony. An assistant medical examiner testified that the child suffered severe injuries consistent with his skin, bones and some of his internal organs being scraped along pavement for a sustained period.
A woman who found Elijah in the grass near her home testified that the boy was moving and waving his arms, and a police officer who arrived minutes later said the child made eye contact with him.
Defense attorney Ricardo D. Zwaig told the judge that Arellano de Hogue did not know she had hit a stroller until she pulled it from her truck at the scene of the second crash, in the 1500 block of Regester Ave., and that she didn't know a little boy had been in the carriage until a police officer later told her so.
He said the fact that other motorists saw the stroller beneath the truck and sparks flying from it and heard noises doesn't mean that Arellano de Hogue did. And he told the judge that female motorists often ignore honking horns because they think people are "bothering them."
"For however many breaths she takes, Ms. de Hogue will be haunted by what happened on Dec. 1," the defense attorney said. "It was a tragic, unfortunate accident."
The judge, however, stressed in his comments that the boy was not killed by the impact of the 3,500-pound truck running into the stroller pushed by his grandmother, Marjorie Thomas. Rather, the fatal injuries were caused by the boy's body being scraped along pavement, he said.
"These injuries, I don't think ... " Hennegan said, his voice trailing off as he appeared to choke up. "I know I've never seen anything like this in my life. ... It's really hard to view. It's devastating."
He said that he took no pleasure in convicting Arellano de Hogue the way he might in sending a convicted killer to prison for shooting someone in the head.
"I'm sorry for the defendant because I don't think she's a monster," Hennegan said. "I'm sorry for Elijah. And I'm sorry for Ms. Thomas and her family."
Hennegan acquitted the woman of three charges related to her actions before the initial crash.
She is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 16. The most serious charge - manslaughter - carries a sentence of up to 25 years in prison.