Woman pleads guilty in deaths of Kean students
Published: February 14, 2014
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ST. THOMAS - The woman who killed two high school students and critically wounded another in a drunk driving accident more than two years ago took a plea agreement Thursday in V.I. Superior Court.
Karen Williams, who was 33 at the time of the Jan. 25, 2012, incident, was charged with two counts of negligent homicide, along with reckless endangerment and two counts of driving under the influence.
On Thursday, she agreed in court to plead guilty solely to the two counts of negligent homicide, accounting for the deaths of Aliya Robles Jackson, 17, and Jolicia Wilson, 18.
Shatina Garnette, who was 18 at the time, was the sole survivor among the three Ivanna Eudora Kean High School students.
Garnette still is recovering from injuries, according to Assistant Attorney General Sigrid Tejo-Sprotte's statement in court Thursday.
Williams spoke softly Thursday, confirming her pleas of guilt quietly before Judge Kathleen Mackay.
In the back of the room, listening attentively, were the mothers of the three young women who Williams had driven into on Weymouth Rhymer Highway just before 5 a.m. on that Sunday.
At the time of the accident, V.I. police asked Williams to take a chemical test of her blood-alcohol level, which registered at 0.161, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08.
"It has devastated everybody's life," said Shanda Caracciolo, mother of Garnette.
Garnette, who had a 2-month-old son at the time of the incident, now is living in Houston, Texas. She still is recovering from the incident, constantly suffering from migraines, according to Caracciolo. She also continues to undergo physical therapy and is expected to undergo further surgery for her injuries.
"She's not the same person," Caracciolo said, noting that Garnette lacks the confidence she used to have and needs help taking care of herself and her 2-year-old son. "She still has a long way to go."
The tragic deaths brought together much of the community, as students and staff at the young women's school held a vigil and friends and family placed stuffed teddy bears at the scene where the incident occurred.
The teddy bears still can be seen at the site today.
Williams had been driving a Honda east on Weymouth Rhymer Highway in the same direction that Robles, Wilson and Garnette were walking, according to a probable cause fact sheet filed at the time by V.I. Police Officer LuWanda Chandler.
Williams lost control of the car, which jumped a curb and struck the pedestrians, according to the affidavit.
"There was also evidence on the right side of the vehicle which indicated that the vehicle made contact with a guard rail on the opposite side of the roadway, further revealing the defendant was operating in a reckless manner," Chandler wrote.
The Honda struck the pedestrians, hit a speed limit sign and spun into a utility pole.
The impact threw Robles 26.4 feet; Wilson, 16.7 feet; and Garnette 28.2 feet, according to the affidavit.
"She only admitted guilty because her own witnesses would have proven her guilt," said Sandra Jackson Robles, mother of Aliya Robles, said Thursday after the change of plea.
Sandra Jackson Robles said she spoke for all three mothers when she said that the laws were too lenient for dealing with driving under the influence and the tragedies that can come of it.
"My daughter didn't make it to womanhood," Jackson Robles said. "Nothing will bring back my child."
For each count of negligent homicide, Williams faces a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment. Given that she faces two counts, and that the sentences could be served consecutively, Williams could spend 10 years in prison at most.
She also faces a maximum $1,000 fine for each count.
"They have to do more here," Caracciolo said, noting that, because her daughter survived, Williams faces no additional time for the injuries that Garnette suffered and continues to suffer.
"If you want to get a DUI and get a slap on the wrist, come to the Virgin Islands."
Mackay scheduled the sentencing for Williams for 10 a.m. March 27, a date on which Caracciolo said her daughter is going to try and appear at the sentencing to invoke her victims' rights and address the court.
- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.