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Woman killed by hit and run driver

Woman killed by hit and run driver

This is a tragic case of driver inattentiveness.

Defense begins case in hit-run trial

Epanthamie Barker’s attorney says there’s not enough evidence to convict her of any of the crimes with which she’s charged.

The defense began its case Thursday in Venango County court in the jury trial of an Oil City woman arrested for the hit-run death of a 70-year-old pedestrian at an Oil City intersection in late 2006.

Epanthamie S. Barker, 27, of Oil City, is accused of striking Elizabeth “Betty” Harmon of Oil City with her vehicle on the afternoon of Friday, Dec. 29, 2006, at the intersection of Central Avenue and First Street on the city’s South Side, and leaving the scene of the accident. Harmon was knocked or dragged into the intersection by the force of the impact, according to police, and she later died from injuries she received in the accident.

Police say Barker was driving on a suspended North Carolina license at the time of the accident. She was driving a minivan belonging to her aunt, Sandra Blanchard of 315 Central Ave. in Oil City, and was taking a 2-year-old cousin home when the accident occurred, according to witness accounts. Another cousin, Sharon Blanchard, was also a passenger in the vehicle.

Barker returned to her aunt’s house on Central Avenue after the accident rather than stopping at the scene to render aid and provide information, according to witnesses.

In her opening remarks, defense attorney Pamela Logsdon Sibley acknowledged “the rear wheel” of Barker’s vehicle “did roll over Betty Harmon.” She argued, however, that there is not enough evidence to “convict her (Barker) of any of the crimes with which she has been charged.”

Charges against Barker include homicide by vehicle, accidents involving death or personal injury, accidents involving death/injury while not properly licensed and failure to stop and give information and render aid.

Only one witness has argued that Barker failed to stop at the stop bar in front of the crosswalk, testimony that is countered by three other witnesses, Sibley said.

Barker’s adult passenger “saw no one in the crosswalk,” Sibley said, and when Barker “felt a bump,” she had “no reason to believe the van had rolled over a pedestrian.”

When David Waters Jr. chased Barker down the street and pounded on her window to alert her to the accident, Barker was “extremely frightened,” Sibley said. She also had a “frantic disabled cousin and a 2-year-old in her care,” Sibley added.

She explained that Barker returned to her aunt’s where she knew she “would be able to see to her cousins and return” to the nearby accident scene.

Sibley said that Barker told her aunt, “They’re saying I hit an old lady, and you have to take me back (to the scene).”

Sibley said Polk Borough Police Chief Ed Sharp’s vehicle was blocking the exit of the Blanchard vehicle from the driveway. Sharp was flagged down by Waters, who along with witness Rachel Shotts, followed the van back to the Central Avenue home.

“He (Sharp) told them, ‘You stay here,'” Sibley said.

Sibley told the jury that Barker “is not the woman the Commonwealth would have you believe” and painted a picture of a woman with “a strong faith in God,” who “has spent her entire adult life taking care of other people.”

Sibley argued that Barker agreed to drive her young cousin home in an effort to relieve the young girl’s distress. The girl was demanding to go home and was so distraught that the adults in the room were covering their ears “to muffle the screaming,” according to Sibley.

Only after other efforts to arrange a ride for the girl had fallen through did Barker offer to drive her home, Sibley said.

She also noted that any drinking Barker did on Dec. 29 was long after the accident.

Sibley agreed that Harmon’s death was tragic.

“But this is not a court of vengeance, it’s a court of justice,” Sibley said and asked jury members to turn their attention to factors “both large and small that played a part in the accident.”

During her testimony, Barker’s aunt, Sandra Blanchard said she was permitted by Oil City police to use the van to drive her granddaughter home after the accident. She said that when the van was impounded by police, it was towed in a manner that allowed the rear wheels to maintain contact with the road.

She also testified about a pronounced bump in the road at the intersection of Central and West First that existed at the time of the accident.

She said the bump, which remains, “rocks the whole van” depending “on how you hit it.”

Sharon Blanchard testified that after Waters pounded on the van, she urged Barker to return to the Blanchard home.

“I thought he was trying to hurt my cousin. I said, ‘Go home now. We need my mom,'” she said.

“We had a madman at the window and a child in the car. I said, ‘Get straight to the house, now,'” she said.

Also testifying were two eyewitnesses, Todd Jansen and Josh Russo, who were passengers in a vehicle driven by Broc Manross. The Manross vehicle was behind Barker’s on Central Avenue when the accident occurred.

The trial is expected to conclude today. It resumes at 9 a.m.