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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Kornegay Murder and Child Abuse Case

     Keith Kornegay, 37 and his 33-year-old wife Misty lived in a small white house off a dirt road in northern Florida's Columbia County located between Jacksonville and Tallahassee. Mr. Kornegay drove a truck and on occasion his wife traveled with him. On Sunday January 4, 2015, the couple left the house on a three-day trucking job. They left their 16-year-old son Damien in charge of his three sisters, ages three to fifteen.

     On Monday night January 6, 2015, 11-year-old Nicole Kornegay called the home of a friend and spoke to the girl's mother. According to Nicole, she and her 15-year-old sister Ariel had run away from home. They had walked four miles to the town of White Springs and wanted to be picked up at the Dollar General store.

     When asked why she and her sister had run off, Nicole said that someone at their house may have been shot. The mother called 911 then drove to the Dollar General store to fetch the girls.

     At ten that night, deputies with the Columbia County Sheriff's Office entered the Kornegay house to find Damien Kornegay lying beneath a blanket near the living room fireplace with his head on a pillow. He had been shot to death. His 3-year-old sister was in the house by herself.

     When questioned about the shooting at the sheriff's office, 15-year-old Ariel said she didn't know anything about her brother's death. However, after a few follow-up questions, she broke into tears and confessed to shooting her brother.

     Ariel said that when she misbehaved her parents routinely locked her into her bedroom (they must have had an exterior lock installed), sometimes for days at a time. Shortly after her parents left the  house on the trucking job, her brother Damien, who regularly beat her, locked her into her bedroom. That's when she decided to kill him.

     Ariel talked Nicole into unlocking her door. She knew that her father kept a handgun (a 9mm pistol) in his room. Because the bedroom was locked, Ariel managed to remove an air-conditioner from the window and climb into the room where she found the weapon. She loaded the gun and walked into the living room and shot Damien as he slept near the fireplace. A few minutes later, when she re-entered the living room, Ariel saw her 3-year-old sister trying to wake up their dead brother.

     Following the shooting, Ariel and Nicole headed for the Dollar General store in White Springs, leaving the 3-year-old at home with the corpse.

     After learning that their 16-year-old son had been shot to death by his 15-year-old sister, Keith and Misty Kornegay cut their trip short and returned home where they were met by sheriff's deputies.

     Misty Kornegay told the deputies that she and her husband had frequently locked Ariel into her bedroom. Mr. Kornegay admitted that he had once kept her locked up for 21 consecutive days. (Deputies, in Ariel's bedroom closet, had found a bucket of urine.) When the girl recently tried to kill herself, the parents did not notify the authorities.

     Deputies booked Mr. and Mrs. Kornegay into the Columbia County Jail on charges of child neglect causing great bodily harm. If convicted of this second-degree felony, they faced up to fifteen years in prison. The judge set their bonds at $20,000.

     In 2010, when Ariel was ten, her uncle went to prison for sexually molesting her. Deputies also learned that Misty Kornegay had once caught Ariel and Damien having sex.

     At a news conference on January 7, 2015, State Attorney Jeff Siegmeister told reporters that 11-year-old Nicole and her older sister were being held in separate juvenile detention centers in Ocala and Gainesville. The prosecutor said he had 21 days to decide whether to charge the girls with premeditated murder as adults or juveniles.

     The prosecutor decided not to charge Ariel Kornegay with criminal homicide. In March 2015, the girl pleaded guilty to burglary, a second-degree felony. The judge placed the 15-year-old on probabion with the Department of Juvenile Justice until her 19th birthday.

     In November 2015, Misty and Keith Kornegay, pursuant to a plea deal, pleaded guilty to the crimes of intentional child abuse and child neglect. The judge sentenced the parents to ten years probation that included two years of house arrest. The judge also ordered the couple to pay fines and court costs.

     In my opinion, the judge in this case let these parents off light.

     

Monday, February 20, 2017

Hit-And-Run: America's Silent Crime Wave

     People who accidentally injure or kill pedestrians and others with their vehicles then leave the scene of the accident, come from all walks of life. Most of them are ordinary people who do not live lives of crime. They flee the site of the mishap for different reasons. Hit-and-run drivers don't stop because they are intoxicated, driving on suspended driver's licenses, don't have insurance, are accompanied by someone they shouldn't be with, or are being sought by the authorities. Hit-and-run victims also represent a cross-section of American society.

     Hit-and-run cases are difficult to solve because so many of them occur at night with no witnesses. Even if investigators link a particular car or truck to the victim through hair follicle, textile, or DNA evidence, the prosecutor still has to place the defendant in that vehicle. Judges in hit-and-run cases resulting in injury or death are often reluctant to send convicted defendants to prison. These are not intentional crimes, and those convicted are usually not hardened criminals. Families of hit-and-run victims believe these defendants get off light.

     Nationwide, there about about 6 million traffic accidents a year. At least ten percent of these crashes involve hit-and-run drivers. Of the 600,000 or so hit-and-run cases every year, about a third result in injury or death. Los Angeles, according to a recent journalistic study by L. A. Weekly, has been in the midst of a hit-and-run epidemic since 2011. Every year, more than 4,000 people in the city of 3.8 million are hurt or killed by hit-and-run drivers. Almost half of the city's traffic accidents are hit-and-run cases. The staggering rate of this crime has overwhelmed the Los Angeles police.

    Because the hit-and-run accident has become such a commonplace event, these cases do not attract a lot of coverage in the media. Exceptions involve drivers who are professional athletes, TV actors, politicians, or anyone remotely famous. A hit-and-run case made national news in 1999 when 43-year-old Bryon Smith ran over the horror novelist, Stephen King. King was jogging on a remote road near North Lovell, Maine when Smith plowed into him. The writer nearly lost a leg, and Smith lost his driver's license. A year after the judge gave Smith a suspended sentence, the hit-and-run driver committed suicide.

     On January 14, 2013, a "hit-and-run" Google search covering a period of 24 hours, revealed more than thirty cases across America, a fraction of the actual number. In Los Angeles County, 31-year-old twin sisters Tanisha and Tamaya Davis were killed by a hit-and-run driver as they brawled in the middle of the street at three in the morning. The driver has not been identified.

     In the early morning hours of January 14, 2013, sheriff's deputies found a hit-and-run victim lying dead on the road in North Charleston, North Carolina. In Framingham, Oregon, a 58-year-old man was seriously injured at 7:30 in the evening when a motorist ran over him as he crossed the street. The police were looking for a blue Toyota sedan. A hit-and-run driver on the south side of Indianapolis killed a female pedestrian at eleven-thrity in the morning. In Houston, Texas, at ten-thirty at night, a 64-year-old man was killed when he tried to cross a busy road that had no crosswalk. He was hit by a gray Toyota pickup. A man in Brooklyn, New York was injured by a motorist while riding a bicycle at four in the morning. A driver on a road in Poulsbo, Washington hit two female pedestrians from behind. The injured women ended up in a roadside ditch.

The Facebook Case

     On New Year's eve, 2012, 18-year-old Jacob Cox-Brown, while driving home from a party drunk, hit two other cars and kept on going. The next day, the Astoria, Washington resident wrote the following on his Facebook page: "Drivin drunk...classic ;) but to whoever's vehicle I hit, I am sorry." A reader notified the police who examined Cox-Brown's car to find damage that linked his vehicle to one of the sideswiped cars. Following his arrest, Cox-Brown admitted leaving the scene of the collisions. He was charged with two counts of failing to perform the duties of a driver. (As of February 20, 2017, I can find no disposition of this case recorded on the Internet.)

The Motorist with the Bad DMV Record

     On Saturday, January 13, 2013, a hit-and-run driver struck 28-year-old Catherine Calalang and her 20-year-old cousin Laurene Jiminez as they walked along a road in Camden County, New Jersey. Calalang had five teeth kocked out, and suffered facial injuries. Jiminez suffered serious head injuries. The next day, Voorhees Township police received an anonymous tip that led them to Magnolia, New Jersey where they found a damaged Ford Fusion parked on the street. The vehicle, registered to 44-year-old Michele Toussaint of Berlin, New Jersey, contained physical evidence linking it to the hit-and-run.

     Michele Toussaint, since 1991, had 52 driver's license arrests and 16 moving traffic violations. (Toussaint's husband had been killed in a traffic accident.) She was charged with leaving the scene of an accident, endangering an injured victim, and causing injury while driving on a suspended license. Toussaint was taken into custody on January 13, 2013 and placed into the Camden County Correctional Facility under $62,500 bail. Toussaint told the arresting officers that she was about to turn herself in.

     The defendant pleaded guilty in December 2013. The judge, at her sentencing hearing, sentenced Toussaint to a two-year electronic monitoring home detention program.

No Prison for Helen Fettes

     In October 2011, 80-year-old Helen Fettes, while driving on a road in Olmsted, Ohio in the Cleveland area, killed 13-year-old Charlie Kho. After running the boy over, Fettes drove away. In November 2012, after pleading no contest to aggravated vehicular homicide, the judge sentenced Fettes to five years of house arrest. The judge also suspended Fettes' driving privileges for life, and ordered her to pay $125,000 in restitution.