Brianna Smith hadn’t been out in a while, so she, her cousin, and two friends planned a “girls’ night out” for Saturday. But after an evening hanging out in a Brighton bar, an altercation outside a diner led to her cousin’s death.
Now Smith, 26, is facing a charge of vehicular homicide in the death of Cusandra Webb, 28, who police say was dragged for 75 feet by a vehicle that Smith was driving. Webb fell from the vehicle and was hit by a taxi.
“It’s a very tragic accident,” Smith’s lawyer, Chris Kenney, said at her arraignment Tuesday.
The group had left the White Horse Tavern at 1:45 a.m. Sunday, with Webb driving, and picked up another person on the way to the diner, according to Assistant District Attorney Greer Spatz. Once they got to Victoria’s Diner, near the South Bay shopping center, all the women except Webb got out of the SUV. Webb then backed into a nearby dumpster before driving off erratically, Spatz said. She then returned, exited the SUV, and got into an altercation with one of the women in the group.
Smith then got into the SUV, which was still running, and double parked, according to court documents. Webb reached in through the open driver side window and attempted to get back into the vehicle as Smith drove away, dragging her cousin until she fell to the ground, Spatz said.
Spatz said Webb’s friends tried to direct traffic away from Webb, who was lying in the street. One vehicle swerved, but a second, a taxi, struck Webb, Spatz said. Webb died from her injuries early Monday.
Police said Smith told them that she had been drinking, and that she had moved the car. Her blood-alcohol level was .10 percent, according to court records, which is over the legal limit of .08 percent.
But Kenney, Smith’s
lawyer, said he spoke to witnesses who disputed that Webb was dragged. He said that his client took the vehicle to park it, and that Webb was intoxicated.
Smith, who lives in a shelter and has a 1-year-old child, is a student at Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, where she was set to graduate in May, Kenney said. She had hoped to become a nurse.
Smith was charged with assault and battery, larceny, and reckless endangerment of a child last year after a fight at a bus stop in Brighton. She had left her daughter unattended in a stroller during the fight, according to court records.
“She turned her life around,” Kenney said.
During the court proceeding Tuesday, Smith sobbed into her shirt, and relatives and friends of both women wept as Spatz recounted Webb’s death. Smith was ordered held on $35,000 bail.
After the arraignment, Smith’s mother, Kimberly Allen, said it was an accident.
“It was an honest accident that I wish never ever happened,” Allen said through tears. “My cousin lost her life, and my daughter is fighting for her life.”
Allen said thetaxi driver should be charged. But Jake Wark, spokesman for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, said evidence showed that thetaxi driver was not at fault, nor impaired, and that he remained at the scene.
A criminal law expert said it is not unusual for a defendant to be charged with vehicular homicide in such a case.
“A prosecutor is going for the most broad range of options,” said Rosanna Cavallaro, a criminal law professor at Suffolk University. “If you aim for the most serious charge, then a jury can come back with a lesser charge.”
Cavallaro said a jury will decide whether a reasonable person should have understood the risk involved in driving away while someone was holding onto the vehicle.
“When you’re not careful, a car is deadly, as deadly as a weapon, and it’s not enough to say ‘I didn’t mean to,’ ” she said.