A jury Wednesday found a Hempstead motorist guilty of manslaughter after a 2016 crash in which she drove into three bystanders, killing one and seriously injuring two, while speeding to back up her mother in a brawl the victims were watching.
The Nassau County Court panel also acquitted Shania Buchanan, 24, of a second-degree murder charge and convicted her of multiple assault counts, reckless endangerment and reckless driving.
Prosecutors said during the trial that Buchanan wielded a Pathfinder as a “4,000-pound weapon,” hitting and fatally injuring Hempstead resident Barbara Reid, 56, whose body the vehicle dragged down the street.
Before driving into Reid, Buchanan first hit pedestrian Betty Sanders, 45, leaving her with a broken femur, and then bicyclist Jose Mena, 59, who suffered a fractured spine, according to authorities.
The April 20, 2016, event happened on Linden Avenue in Hempstead as a crowd watched Buchanan’s mother in a physical fight with another woman as part of an ongoing feud between their families, evidence showed.
Buchanan sped there after getting a call from her sister saying that their mother was losing the fight, according to prosecutors.
Defense attorney Jeffrey Groder had argued during the trial that the crash was a tragic accident, and called the investigation “biased and incomplete,” saying police pinned guilt on Buchanan before examining all the evidence.
Prosecutor Stefanie Palma told jurors Buchanan barreled onto the scene at 60 mph “with a vengeance” and “without a care or concern for the people ahead.”
She said evidence showed Buchanan failed to brake while the vehicle was still a couple of houses away from hitting the first victim. Palma also told jurors the Pathfinder would have ended up somewhere else — not next to Buchanan’s mother’s house — if Buchanan had lost control of the vehicle.
The prosecutor added that while Buchanan later told police the Pathfinder’s brakes were “really, really bad,” a test showed they worked.
Groder argued that if the Pathfinder came through the crowd at 60 mph without Buchanan trying to stop, it would have ended up much farther down the block.
He also said a test of the vehicle’s minimum stopping distance showed Buchanan was hitting the brakes at least two houses away from people.
Groder said after Wednesday’s verdict that he was thankful jurors acquitted his client of the top count against her, but that she still faced significant time behind bars.
The district attorney’s office said Buchanan is facing 5 to 15 years in prison on the manslaughter conviction and 5 to 25 years in prison on a first-degree assault conviction, and the judge could punish her with consecutive sentences.
Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a statement that Reid, Sanders and Mena paid the price of a “short-sighted feud” and “the violence inflicted on them over nothing should remind everyone that cars are weapons.”