Tossed conviction stands for deadly leaf pile driver

Oregon Supreme Court ruled in favor of Cinthya Garcia-Cisneros

Jill Rehkopf Smith, The Portland Tribune - PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) --- The Oregon Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Cinthya Garcia-Cisneros, denying state prosecutors' Petition to Review a May 3 Court of Appeals decision that threw out Garcia's highly publicized "hit-and-run" conviction of January 2014.

Both sides in the case agreed Garcia, a Forest Grove resident, didn't initially realize she'd accidentally driven over two young stepsisters — Anna Dieter-Eckerdt and Abigail Robinson, ages 6 and 11 — who were apparently lying or hiding in a huge leaf pile on Forest Grove's Main Street in October 2013.

Then 18, Garcia spent three months in jail before going to trial in front of Washington County Circuit Court Judge Rick Knapp. A jury found Garcia guilty of two counts of "failure to perform the duties of a driver toward injured persons," a felony.

At the request of the victims' families, Knapp sentenced Garcia to probation and community service.

But the Court of Appeals ruled last May that she never should have been convicted in the first place because Knapp should have granted defense attorney Ethan Levi's motion for acquittal.

The intent behind the "failure to perform duties" law is to "penalize a driver who attempts to escape his financial responsibility for damage or attempts to escape criminal or civil prosecution by fleeing the scene of an accident without giving the required information to the other party," wrote Appeals Court Judge James C. Egan.

Levi said he requested three times — during pre-trial motions, after the state presented its case, and again after the jury pronounced its verdict — that Knapp dismiss the case or aquit Garcia because she didn't realize she had struck or hurt anyone and therefore was not trying to escape any responsibility when she drove away from the scene.

But the state argued — and Knapp agreed — that a duty to return to the scene of the accident was implicit in the statute.

The Supreme Court today, Sept. 14, upheld the Court of Appeals' finding that the statute actually indicates the opposite — that the required duties would be imposed "only on a driver who knew at the time of the accident that he or she was involved in an accident and thus can 'immediately' take action."

Now Levi needs to file another motion for acquittal. If that motion is granted, he will look into expunging the arrest from Garcia's record.

"I just emailed her and she's very happy about it," Levi said. But the shadow of the tragedy hangs over the news, he added. "We're not like, jubilant, because it was this whole horrible thing."

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN media partner.

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