A woman who was severely beaten last year on a city bus told a juvenile court judge yesterday that she could identify only one of the teens accused of attacking her over an empty seat.
Nine students at Robert Poole Middle School have been accused of beating Sarah Kreager, 26, and her boyfriend, Troy Ennis, aboard a bus in Hampden in December.
One student has admitted her role in the attack, and cases against five began yesterday after more than a month of motions. Cases against the other three alleged assailants have been delayed and could be dismissed, according to court records.
Kreager, the first witness, said that 20 to 30 students poured out of the bus, many of them advancing on her. But in photo arrays viewed weeks after the attack, Kreager said she could only identify with "100 percent confidence" the girl she says started it all: Nakita McDaniels.
The Sun does not publish names of juveniles accused of crimes. But McDaniels, 15, filed public countercharges against Kreager, which prosecutors declined to pursue.
Kreager said that she never got a look at the face of the boy who later kicked her in the face because she was balled up in the gutter, trying to protect her body from the attack. She was sure, she said, that the boy was wearing a green jacket and butter-colored boots.
"There's no reliable ID; no photo ID," defense attorney Margaret Desonier, who is representing the boy accused of kicking Kreager, said in her opening statement. "The state hangs its case [against my client] on the color of a generic jacket. 'Green' does not mean guilty."
On the witness stand yesterday, Kreager tried to reconcile her statements to a television reporter a day or two after the attack - when she said she could identify all of her assailants - with the outcome of the photo arrays.
"The interview with Fox 45 - that was 24 to 48 hours later, and it was much more fresh in my mind; the photo arrays were a few weeks later," Kreager said.
She said she couldn't point out McDaniels in the courtroom because she couldn't see that far. About 30 feet separated them. She has previously said that the attack left her with blurred vision.
Kreager described the attack in detail yesterday. She testified that McDaniels told her the seat she was sitting in was taken and then threatened to move her when she didn't get up. Kreager said she moved seconds later to avoid a confrontation and went to stand with Ennis by the rear door of the bus.
But when Ennis accused the middle schooler of having worse manners than the couple's 5-year-old daughter, McDaniels resumed taunting them with an expletive-filled tirade, Kreager said.
"I was thinking, 'Look, you can have the seat,'" Kreager said. "Nakita swung and struck me in the face. ... There was an uproar. A female's legs came up out of a seat on the left-hand side. The noise level went from loud to even louder. I heard a male yelling 'Stop!' from the front of the bus."
Kreager said she crawled out of the bus and began to regroup when students began moving to the front of the bus to get the driver to open the door. Kreager said that Ennis tried to barricade the door shut from the outside until she told him to release the door so the teenagers could get out.
When McDaniels emerged, she repeated "what's good?" - slang for "let's go, let's fight," Kreager said.
Kreager said she began backing up to prepare herself for an attack, while Ennis apparently faced off with other students.
"Nakita and a female tackled me," Kreager said. "I was in the gutter with my hands over my face, trying to block the punches. I felt a piercing in my head. ... There were at least five to 10, maybe seven to 10, students around me."
Kreager said the punches and kicks became "harder and harder" until someone pulled her head up by her hair and McDaniels ordered someone to kick her.
Eye 'swelled shut'
"My eye immediately swelled shut," she said. "I couldn't see."
Three of the five defense attorneys have cross-examined Kreager. Although all of them either suggested or asserted during opening statements that Kreager provoked the attack, none of the three attorneys so far has challenged Kreager's testimony that McDaniels started the fight.
Defense attorneys mostly tried to attack Kreager's character, pointing to previous arrests, mental health problems and uncooperative behavior at the hospital.
For the most part, Circuit Judge David W. Young cut off such questioning as irrelevant.
Prosecutors began their case yesterday by playing 911 calls made by panicked and breathless witnesses who described the chaos on West 33rd Street.
"There's a riot, a huge riot on the bus," said one 911 caller, who was panting during the call. "Everyone is fighting. People are flying out windows."