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Niles woman pleads not guilty to 16 charges

Published 9:48pm Thursday, September 27, 2012

CASSOPOLIS — Cecilia Cheney pleaded not guilty to 16 charges — all related to a fiery crash last fall in Milton Township that killed four people — after being bound over for trial in Cass County Circuit Court Thursday by Fourth District Judge Stacey Rentfrow.

The Niles woman faced four counts of involuntary manslaughter after plea negotiations broke down onmisdemeanor charges.

The charges were amended Thursday to add 12 additional counts.

Cheney was driving east on U.S. 12 east of Bell Road toward her work in Mishawaka last Oct. 9 when her pickup crossed the centerline and collided head-on with another vehicle occupied by an Indiana family.

Passengers killed in the Mercury included Devin Stone, 1, of Mishawaka; Stacey Garza, 35, of Mishawaka; Curtis Stone, 50, of Mishawaka; and Kathleen Marks, 57, of South Bend.

Assistant Prosecutor Tiffiny Vohwinkle elicited testimony from Sgt. James Campbell, a crash reconstruction expert with the Michigan State Police, that Cheney was traveling 64 to 68 miles per hour, exceeding the posted speed limit of 55 mph.

Campbell, who has averaged 45 to 50 investigations a year since 1997, also testified in detail about the “yaw” movement of the pickup sliding forward while turning sharply.

Both badly burned vehicles came to rest upside down off the highway.

Trooper Bryon Bierema, an officer since December 2008, was dispatched to the crash about 3:15 p.m.

Cheney was receiving medical attention from an off-duty nurse, Bierema said, and she was so upset she was “not capable of talking” until two hours later at Lakeland.

Bierema described her vehicle drifting off the road.

She attempted to correct course and overcompensated to miss a mailbox.

When she realized she was going to collide with the oncoming vehicle, she shut her eyes.

Then she was crawling from the wreckage.

On cross-examination, Cheney’s attorney, Roosevelt Thomas, objected to characterizations that she glanced at her purse to see if her wallet was inside and to the additional charges. She tested negative for alcohol and drugs.
Involuntary manslaughter is punishable by 15 years and/or $7,500.

Reckless driving causing death carries 15 years and/or a $2,500 to $10,000 fine.

Manslaughter with a motor vehicle is punishable by 15 years and/or a $7,500 fine.

The penalty for moving violations causing death, formerly known as negligent homicide, is a year and/or $2,000.

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