A Cherokee County judge decided Tuesday that charges will stand against a teen motorist accused in a multiple-pedestrian fatality.
State Court Judge Alan Jordan denied several motions in the case involving Zoe Reardon, 18. She faces nine misdemeanor charges, including second-degree vehicular homicide and distracted driving. Authorities say she was driving on Arnold Mill Road in downtown Woodstock the evening of Sept. 9, 2017 when she struck three people crossing the street. Kathy Deming and Kaitlin Hunt, who was holding her infant, Riley Hunt, were walking to a concert. All three died from their injuries.
“It’s like part of me died,” said Kathy Vandiver, Kaitlin’s mother and Riley’s grandmother.
Kaitlin Hunt in 2016 married her high school sweetheart, Brandon Hunt. They were living in Florida, where she was in the U.S. Coast Guard and he was in law enforcement. When Hurricane Irma started churning toward the United States, Kaitlin Hunt decided to come up to Woodstock, where her parents live, to escape the storm’s path. Hours after she and Riley arrived, several family members and friends decided to attend the concert together.
Kathleen Vandiver and her other daughter were nearby when the crash happened.
“I thought it was an explosion,” she said. “The nightmares that I have when I close my eyes are the sound and seeing what happened in the aftermath.”
At the time, there were no crosswalks or streetlights in the area of impact, though now there are now traffic lights and a marked pedestrian crossing. Kaitlin Hunt and Kathy Deming were wearing dark clothing.
“I never saw anyone coming,” Reardon told Channel 2 Action News. Investigators have determined she was not speeding and that neither drugs nor alcohol were present in her system.
Brandon Hunt, Kaitlin Hunt’s widower and Riley’s father, in October 2018 filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Woodstock, citing the lack of signs, crosswalks, safety personnel directing traffic or other safety measures at the time. The city “knew or should have known that the traffic on Arnold Mill Road would pose a risk of unreasonable harm to the attendees coming to and from the concert,” the lawsuit says. The concert, part of the 20th annual Woodstock Summer Concert Series, was free and open to the public and presented by the Woodstock Parks and Recreation Department along with numerous area sponsors.
Reardon’s attorneys filed motions seeking to quash several of the counts, saying they lacked specificity. The vehicular homicide counts allege Reardon was “engaged in an act which distracted her from the safe operation of the vehicle,” but don’t elaborate, her defense argued.
“One can be distracted in a myriad of ways and the defense needs specificity about what the state is alleging so it can provide a viable defense; otherwise the state can offer alternative theories and ‘see what sticks,’” her attorneys argued in court documents.
The defense also sought to sever the charge accusing Reardon of text-based communication while operating a motor vehicle. Investigators have determined that Reardon sent her father a text message at 8:12 p.m. and the crash happened at 8:15 p.m. She has told authorities she sent the message while her Jeep was stopped, that she then placed the phone in her backpack and that she was looking straight ahead when the collision happened.
“This count is solely incorporated into the accusation because it plays to the fears of every parent, driver and potential juror — a 17-year-old teenager texting while driving that ends up killing someone in an accident,” Reardon’s attorneys argued in the motion. “The state is trying to play to the fears of the jury by injecting texting and driving into the case in order to convolute the facts and curry favor on behalf of the state.”
The defense also wanted one of the prosecution’s expert witnesses excluded, challenging how complete the crash re-enactment was.
Kaitlin Hunt’s family sought to have the trial date moved from the week of March 11. Her sister, Lauren White, who lives in Louisiana, is expecting her first child and is due that week.
Cherokee County State Court Judge Alan Jordan denied all motions and kept the date in place. He said he did empathize with the family, but said moving one trial date impacts others.
“There are ramifications for every decision I make,” he said, nothing the case has dragged on for more than a year and that he is hopeful the family will soon have closure. “I’m ready to get it done in March.”
That means Kaitlin Hunt’s family members, including those who would be able to give witness testimony at trial, can either plan to be here or to be in Louisiana. Defense attorney Manny Arora said he’d be willing to stipulate to witness statements family members have given. Still, having to decide whether to be present for the trial involving one daughter’s death or the arrival of another daughter’s baby is agonizing, Kathleen Vandiver said.
“Our life’s on hold,” she said. “So now, what do we do? They’re making us choose one daughter over another daughter.”
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