Accused of driving into three teenage pedestrians while her blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit, Karen J. Williams on Thursday pleaded not guilty to all criminal charges related to the Jan. 22 accident that left Aliya Robles and Jolicia Wilson dead and Shantina Garnette critically injured.
Williams, a 33-year-old unemployed mother of four who lives in Sugar Estate, was formally charged during her arraignment in V.I. Superior Court with two counts of negligent homicide by means of a motor vehicle, one count of felony first-degree reckless endangerment, one count of driving under the influence, and one count of driving with an illegal blood level.
Police officials said it was around 5 a.m. that Sunday morning when Williams, who was driving eastward on Weymouth Rhymer Highway just past its intersection with Donoe Road, lost control of her 1996 Honda Accord.
Robles, Wilson and Garnette had been walking westward, V.I. Police Department Officer LuWanda Chandler said in an affidavit filed Feb. 6. It was dark out, but the street light was on when Williams lost control of her car, crossed over the double yellow line, and collided with the guardrail on the south side of the road, Chandler said. After hitting the guardrail, Williams’ car spun further out of control, slid sideways and rammed up onto sidewalk where the young women had been exercising. Williams struck the women, hit a speed limit sign, spun around and collided with a utility pole, where her car came to rest, police officials said.
When officers arrived on the scene, they discovered 17-year-old Robles, who was already dead, 26.4 feet from where she had been hit. Emergency responders found Wilson, who was 18 years old, 16.7 feet from the point of impact; she died on the way to Schneider Regional Medical Center, according to court documents.
Officers found 18-year-old Garnette 28.2 feet from the point of impact; she was transported to SRMC with critical injuries. At 7 p.m. the next day, Garnette was airlifted to Tampa General Hospital, Chandler said. On Thursday, Tampa General Hospital officials said Garnette remained at their facility in stable condition.
At the time of the accident, Williams displayed signs of intoxication, according to court documents.
“She refused medical attention and she had a strong odor of alcohol on her breath and person,” Chandler said.
Williams failed a field sobriety test. A subsequent blood alcohol test revealed her level to be .161, which is just over double the .08 threshold considered illegal under V.I. Code.
V.I. Superior Court officials said Thursday that Williams was released from police custody on Friday, Feb. 3, after Daniel Williams posted her $2,500 bail.
On Thursday, Williams sat before Superior Court Magistrate Judge Alan Smith wearing navy blue slacks, an untucked light blue dress shirt with her curled hair back in a high ponytail. She looked much better rested than she had at her Jan. 23 advice of rights hearing, where she appeared disheveled and with bloodshot eyes.
Williams’ attorney, Vincent Fuller Jr., told Smith that his client wanted a jury trial. Smith assigned the case to Superior Court Judge Brenda Hollar, and he said the conditions of Williams’ bail – they include suspension of her drivers license, and an order that she not abuse drugs or alcohol – would remain in place.
If a jury finds Williams guilty of the vehicular homicide charges, she could face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $1,000 for each count.
Asked Thursday if he thought his client had a good case, Fuller said he did.
“There’s always more than meets the eye in these situations,” said Fuller, who the court appointed to defend Williams.
“This is a very unfortunate case, and a very sad case all around,” Fuller added. “I want to acknowledge that.”