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Jury Hears Civil Case Against Woman Who Hit, Killed UM Students

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) -  A six member jury sat down Tuesday afternoon to hear the civil lawsuit against a driver who struck and killed two University of Miami doctoral students from China.

With the jury in the court room, the prosecution brought the smashed front end and windshield of the car into the courtroom.

The plaintiff's attorney Deborah Gander told jurors in their opening statements that the driver was negligent.

"This trial is about paying attention. It's about responsibility and accountability," said Gander.

During jury selection earlier in the day, some prospective jurors said they would feel too much sympathy for the victims to be fair.  Others said they have an anti-Chinese bias - communism and tainted drywall - that would prejudice them against the victims' families.

The jury selection was originally set to begin Monday but was delayed after a woman made "threatening" comments to a witness.

Ying Chen, 27, and Hau Liu, 26, were working on their doctoral degrees at UM in engineering. They were crossing Kendall Drive at an intersection just east of Dixie Highway at about 8 p.m. on October 16th, when they were hit by Milady Pequeno's Porsche which then sped off.

As they lay dying, a Pinecrest Police officer who arrived at the scene stood with her hands in her pockets while an off-duty Miami Police officer, who happened to be driving by, stopped to perform CPR on one of the victims.

The Pinecrest officer, Ana Carrasco, was accused of failing to render aid.  She was suspended for 20 days without pay and required to take a first responder training class.

Pequeno did not go back to render aid, because she said she was so shaken.

Pequeno, who said at trial she never saw them until she hit them, was convicted of careless driving, had her license was suspended for two years.

On Monday Marta Puente, who witnessed the accident, told Judge Migna Sanchez-Llorens that Hilda Enriquez, Pequeno's sister-in-law, approached her in the hallway and said, "I know who you are. You'd better be careful. Something bad could happen to you."

The judge called in Enriquez, who admitted speaking to Puente, but only said she "should tell the truth."

The judge admonished Enriquez to have no further contact with any witnesses or face possible contempt of court.  The judge ordered that Enriquez stay away from the remainder of the trial, and said she should retain an attorney, the suggestion being she might be facing some legal liability.

A person in the hallway who overheard the encounter, confirmed to CBS4 News that Enriquez' remarks to Puente were of a "threatening" nature.

Shortly after the deadly accident, Chen and Lin's parents filed a civil complaint against Pequeno seeking damages. Pequeno's family reportedly has considerable wealth made in the gas station business.


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