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Driver in Michigan birthday party crash that killed 2 kids charged with second-degree murder

Michigan woman charged in deadly birthday party crash
Michigan woman charged in deadly birthday party crash 03:07

(CBS DETROIT) — A 66-year-old woman accused of crashing into a birthday party at the Swan Boat Club in Berlin Township on Saturday, killing two young siblings and injuring several others, was arraigned Tuesday on eight charges, including two counts of second-degree murder. 

The suspect, Marshella Chidester, is suspected to have been driving drunk when she allegedly crashed into a building at the Swan Boat Club property at about 3 p.m. Saturday, April 20.

Driver in Michigan birthday party crash that killed 2 kids charged with second-degree murder 21:56

On Tuesday, Chidester was charged with two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of operating while intoxicated causing a death and four counts of operating while intoxicated causing serious injury. Chidester was issued a $1.5 million cash/surety bond. As a condition of her bond, she must submit to substance abuse testing and monitoring, including a GPS tether. 

The second-degree murder charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. The two counts of operating while intoxicated causing a death carry a maximum of 15 years imprisonment and/or a $2,500-$10,000 fine. The four counts of operating while intoxicated causing serious injury carry maximum sentences of up to five years in prison and/or a $1,000-$5,000 fine. 

According to Monroe County Prosecuting Attorney Jeffery A. Yorkey, additional charges involve serious injuries to a 14-year-old boy and an 18-year-old woman.   

Chidester is due back in court for a probable cause conference on April 30. A preliminary examination is scheduled for May 6. 

The Monroe County Sheriff's Office says Chidester may have been coming from Verna's Bar and Grill, which is located less than four miles from the boat club. 

Chidester's defense attorney argued that she had consumed one glass of wine and a bowl of chili between 11 a.m. and noon on April 20 at Verna's Bar and Grill, which was three to four hours before the crash. The attorney said that an investigation at the bar backed that up and that she has a history of epilepsy and seizures in her legs, which he contends occurred during the crash. 

The prosecution argued that a preliminary breath test indicated that Chidester's blood alcohol level was "significantly over the legal limit."

The prosecution said Chidester indicated to law enforcement that she was on seizure medication and that she wasn't supposed to be drinking but had been drinking that day. 

On Monday, the Monroe County Sheriff's Office identified the victims as 8-year-old Alanah Phillips and 4-year-old Zayn Phillips.

During Tuesday's arrangement, family members of the two children who were killed in the crash spoke via Zoom. 

"My brother is in the hospital right now, praying that his little boy comes through," said the brother of the father of the children killed. "He's still got to tell his son that he lost his sister and brother. How is that right or how is that even fair? How is it even justified?"

Monroe County Sheriff Troy Goodnough said nine of the 15 victims suffered serious, life-threatening injuries. Nine people were transported to area hospitals. As of Monday, their conditions were as listed below:

  • 31-year-old woman who remains in critical condition
  • 11-year-old boy who remains in critical condition
  • 18-year-old woman in serious condition
  • 16-year-old girl in serious condition
  • 14-year-old boy in serious condition
  • 70-year-old woman with minor injuries
  • 66-year-old woman with minor injuries
  • 62-year-old woman with minor injuries
  • 57-year-old woman with minor injuries

A 42-year-old man received treatment on his own for minor injuries. 

In an exclusive video captured by CBS News Detroit on Monday, law enforcement was seen going in and out of the home of a person of interest. The residence is a few doors down from the Swan Boat Club. 

The two children who were killed in the crash attended Flat Rock Community Schools. 

On Sunday, district superintendent Andrew Brodie released the following statement: 

"It is with a heavy heart that I reach out to you today following the tragic events that unfolded yesterday. A senseless accident occurred where a drunk driver crashed into Swan Creek Boat Club, resulting in the loss of two siblings who were students in our school (Early Childhood Center, Bobcean Elementary) and severe injuries of a third sibling (Simpson Middle School).

Our entire school community is reeling from this devastating news, and our hearts ache for the families and loved ones of those affected by this unimaginable tragedy. Words cannot adequately express the depth of our sorrow, nor can they ease the pain of those who are grieving. Please know that our thoughts and prayers are with every one of you during this incredibly difficult time.

In times of tragedy, it is essential that we come together as a community to support one another. Now, more than ever, we must extend our compassion and solidarity to those who need it most. As we navigate through this challenging time, let us lean on each other for strength and comfort, and let us show kindness and understanding to all who are affected by this heartbreaking loss.

When our students return to school on Monday, our counselors and social workers will be on hand to provide support and assistance to any students and families who may need it. We are committed to creating a safe and nurturing environment where everyone feels supported, heard, and valued as we begin the healing process together.

I encourage you to take the time to talk with your children about their feelings and emotions surrounding this tragedy. Let them know that it is okay to grieve, to ask questions, and to seek help if they need it.

Please keep the families of those affected in your thoughts as we come together as a school community to support one another and to honor the memory of those we have lost."

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