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Teen-ager charged in fatal accident

Monday, December 10, 2001

CAPE GIRARDEAU - A 16-year-old girl faces a misdemeanor charge of careless and imprudent driving in connection with an accident that killed her younger sister and injured two teen-agers.

Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle announced the charge Friday, the same day that the girl, April McDonald of Cape Girardeau, was issued a summons to appear before Associate Circuit Judge Gary A. Kamp at 9 a.m. Jan. 3.

McDonald's father, Bobby McDonald, said his family is in dismay over the charge, and his daughter has been punished enough.

McDonald said the family still suffers from the loss of Brittany McDonald, 11, who died Nov. 20 when the car her sister was driving went off a curve and struck a tree along County Road 206 just west of Cape Girardeau.

"We can't believe this is happening," McDonald said. "We feel like it's ridiculous that someone would even consider this."

McDonald said he could understand the charge if a non-family member had died in the accident. "Then I could see it's him doing his job," McDonald said. "This though, it's completely ridiculous, it's heartless. It's like we've suffered a trauma twice."

Swingle declined to respond. "I won't try this case in the media," he said.

Swingle issued a statement with announcement of the charge. He said: "Although it can certainly be said that this particular teen-ager has been punished enough by the accident itself, the state expects to prove that she was driving 56 mph in a 35 mph zone, which is a violation of traffic laws. Anyone else would be charged with the same thing under the same circumstances."

Swingle said juveniles accused of most crimes would be handled in juvenile court, but traffic charges against juveniles are prosecuted in adult court under Missouri law.

Missouri State Highway Patrol Cpl. Perry Hazelwood, who investigated the accident, said he would have issued a ticket to McDonald at the scene but didn't because she had just lost her sister.

"If there hadn't been a fatality, we would have issued a ticket there," Hazelwood said. "But it's clear that there are definitely grounds for the charge. It actually could have been a worse charge like manslaughter."

The girl's father said he isn't sure if he will fight the charge, but he wants to get the court date postponed. "That date is way too soon to even think about doing something like this," he said.

A probable-cause affidavit says a witness, Patti Montgomery, told police that the car traveled at a high rate of speed and was partially on the wrong side of the road when it swerved and went off the road. It also says that Mitch Heath, an accident reconstructionist with the Highway Patrol, believes the car was traveling about 56 mph shortly before the crash occurred.

Conviction of misdemeanor careless and imprudent driving carries a penalty of one day to one year in the county jail or a fine of up to $1,000, or a combination of both.

McDonald said his daughter hopes to be back in school soon, although she still suffers from a lack of equilibrium and soreness as a result of the accident.

"Her spirits are pretty good," McDonald said. "We've got a wonderful church that we belong to that has helped tremendously, and she's had friends come to visit."