Local News

Smithfield Mother Copes With Daughter's Death in Car Accident, Misdemeanor Charges

Posted January 18, 1999

— A child seat can save your child's life, and it is the law. But if your child was unbuckled and killed in an accident, it is a punishment you will live with forever.

The Johnson family buried 5-year-old Rachel this weekend. Now they have a couple of misdemeanors to contend with.

The District Attorney says that he cannot remember in recent history any case like this but says in this case, charges were necessary.

Four Oaks is the last place Kimberly Johnson saw her daughter, Rachel, alive.

Last week, the 29-year-old mother lost control of her car and crashed near Four Oaks. Troopers say no one in the front seat of the vehicle was buckled in.

Because of that, the DA's office has charged Johnson with two misdemeanors for the unintentional death of her daughter.

District Attorney Tom Lock will not comment specifically on the case because it is pending, but he does say that some cases like this one present clear-cut evidence for charges.

"In this particular case, we decided that the misdemeanor death motor vehicle charge was appropriate. We considered a number of factors including the fact that the children involved were not buckled into their seats," said Lock.

That may be the difference between this wreck and other wrecks where a passenger dies and the driver is not charged.

Last week, an elderly Benson woman died when her sister apparently pulled into the path of an oncoming truck.

The passenger was not buckled in in that case either, and the driver was ruled at fault but was not charged with the death.

"Each case is different and requires different levels of expertise. We will bring in reconstructionists. Sometimes we are able to locate witnesses, sometimes we can't. But physical evidence, of course, tells us different things each time," said Sgt. Jeff Winstead of the Highway Patrol.

North Carolina law specifically states that children under age 16 have to be buckled up in some way.


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