Zoe Reardon and Riley Hunt

Tragic Accident: Teen driver avoids jail time after plowing into, killing newborn baby & family as they crossed dark street at night

A Georgia teen who hit and killed three family members crossing a Cherokee County road at night in 2017, pleaded guilty on Monday to misdemeanor charges in connection with the incident. She escaped jail time but will spend the next three years on probation.

As CrimeOnline previously reported, 18-year-old Zoe Reardon was initially facing nine charges after she hit a family walking across a dark street with no streetlight or pedestrian crosswalk on September 7, 2017. The family, identified as Kathy Deming, Kaitlin Hunt, and infant, Riley Hunt, tried to cross Arnold Mill Road in downtown Woodstock, when Zoe smashed into them, accidentally killing them all.

The victims, all from Florida, were in Georgia after escaping Hurricane Irma in Port Saint Lucie. They were walking across the street after attending the 20th annual Woodstock Summer Concert Series on the night they were killed.

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According to Reardon’s attorney, the teen decided herself to take the plea deal since she didn’t want the victims’ loved ones to go through a long, emotional trial.

While reading impact statements on Monday inside a Cherokee County courtroom, most said they didn’t think teen intentionally hit and killed anyone. Yet, Kathy Deming’s son, John Deming, testified that Reardon never bothered to contact them after the incident, leaving the victims’ family to feel she had no remorse.

“A simple phone call would have made a world of difference,” John Deming said.

Kathy’s husband, Mike Deming, added that he understood Reardon’s lawyer told her to refrain from contacting the family, but it still didn’t take the sting away after a judge gave her a first-offender status, meaning once she completes her sentences, the conviction will be lifted from her criminal record.

Cherokee County State Court Judge Alan Jordan ordered Reardon to serve 240 hours of community service, 36 months on probation, attend a safe driver course, and to pay around $4,000 in fines.

“Where is the accountability?” Mike Deming asked. “We have to live with this for the rest of our lives. You don’t.”

Shortly after the accident, investigators determined Reardon was not speeding and hadn’t been under the influence any drugs or alcohol when the incident occurred. Phone records indicate she sent a text message to her father that night, but her lawyer said it was sent while Reardon was at a red light.  Reardon was on her way home from horse riding when she said sent a quick text message to her father, discussing dinner.

Investigators researched Reardon’s last text message and determined she sent it at 8:12 p.m. The the crash occurred three minutes later at 8:15 p.m. Reardon told authorities she put her phone on her backpack in the passenger seat before driving and had both hands on the wheel and her eyes on the road when the accident happened.

In October 2017, Kaitlin Hunt’s husband, Brandon Hunt, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Woodstock, claiming that the city “knew or should have known that the traffic on Arnold Mill Road would pose a risk of unreasonable harm to the attendees coming to and from the concert.”

Posted by Brandon Hunt on Monday, July 31, 2017

 

In May 2018, five days before her high school graduation, authorities charged Reardon with nine misdemeanors, including in part, vehicular homicide, failure to yield, and text-based communication while operating a motor vehicle. Reardon’s lawyers argued earlier this year that the charges should be dropped.

“The state is trying to play to the fears of the jury by injecting texting and driving into the case in order to convolute the facts and curry favor on behalf of the state,” Reardon’s lawyers argued, claiming that their client was proven not to be texting and driving when the accident happened.

“This count is solely incorporated into the accusation because it plays to the fears of every parent, driver and potential juror — a 17-year-old teenager texting while driving that ends up killing someone in an accident.”

Last year, Reardon told Channel 2 Action News that she played the incident over and over in her mind and there was nothing she could have done differently that would have stopped the accident from happening.

“I never saw anyone coming. I wasn’t texting. I wasn’t doing anything, just looking at the road. My eyes were on the road,” Reardon said.

Cherokee Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Sgt. Marianne Kelley told Patch that Reardon was not initially arrested because investigators “wanted to complete a thorough investigation.” Solicitor General Moss added last year that Reardon was never told charges would not be filed.

The arrest warrant for Reardon indicated she didn’t use care when putting her cellphone down and “failed to give warning by sounding her horn when necessary.”

In February, one of Reardon’s lawyers, Manny Arora, argued that investigators closed the case four months after the accident, writing in a police report that charges were “not warranted” because the accident was unavoidable. Arora said authorities only charged the teen after Brandon Hunt filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city.

Reardon is now a college student, attending Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. She’ll be allowed to complete community service and check in with her probation officer from Texas.

“You’re pretty young,” Jordan told Reardon while sentencing her. “You’ve got a lifetime ahead of you. I expect this is something you’re going to have a hard time dealing with the rest of your life.”

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[Feature Photo: Zoe Reardon/Police Handout; Facebook]