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Ohio teen facing criminal charges, civil suit in fatal accident

A teen is on trial in Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court for a 2013 accident that killed an 81-year-old retired Cleveland teacher. The woman sustained multiple broken bones and rib damage in the fatal Ohio car accident. Meanwhile, the victim's estate has filed a civil suit against the young woman and her family.

The accident occurred in January of last year, but the teen was not charged until April. The driver of the vehicle that struck and killed the woman as she was crossing the street did not remain at the scene. Further, there were conflicting descriptions of the vehicle, some based on surveillance video from nearby business establishments.

The investigation centered on the teen, who attends St. Joseph Academy, after a traffic stop in which the police officer noted that her SUV was damaged and missing a headlight. Police determined that the girl could pass the scene of the fatal accident on her way to and from the private girls' school.

The civil suit claims that the young woman should not have been allowed to drive because she suffers from both emotional and physical disabilities. Her attorney has argued that she had a valid driver's license. However, he did ask that reporters not be allowed inside the courtroom because the attention could cause psychological harm to the teen. The judge denied the motion but instructed the media not to name the teen or her parents.

The young woman has been charged with juvenile counts of failing to stop after an accident and aggravated vehicular homicide. Her attorney is arguing that the evidence against her is not sufficient to convict her of the charges. He has pointed to the conflicting descriptions of the vehicle that fatally struck the victim and the lack of reliability of trace evidence recovered from her vehicle.

The outcome of the criminal case could impact the chances of the civil lawsuit. However, plaintiffs often win civil cases against defendants who have not been found guilty of criminal charges or even charged in the first place. Sometimes a lack of criminal accountability can provide a greater impetus for families to seek justice in civil court for their loved one.

Source: The Plain Dealer, "Defense attorneys question evidence in trial of teen accused of killing elderly woman" Rachel Dissell, Mar. 26, 2014

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