- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2007

The woman charged with injuring 43 persons when she drove her car through a weekend street festival appeared in U.S. Superior Court yesterday and was ordered back to jail.

Tonya Nicole Bell, 30, of Oxon Hill, is charged with aggravated assault while armed after police said she drove her 1991 Volvo station wagon through a street festival along Martin Luther King Avenue and side streets in Southeast on Saturday night, causing multiple injuries.

Witnesses said Bell, who has been arrested numerous times on drug charges, was laughing as she plowed through the crowd.

No one was seriously injured, and a defense attorney said the injuries were not bad enough to result in the charge.

“The charge requires a serious bodily injury,” said public defender Daisy Bygrave. “This injury does not reach probable cause.”

Charging documents show Miss Bygrave likely was referring to a compound fracture on the right leg of a victim identified as Rahab Kariki “that required emergency surgery and will take several months to heal.”

The five-minute hearing ended with Judge Milton C. Lee ordering Bell held in jail without bail until another hearing Thursday.

Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said prosecutors will recommend additional charges to a grand jury.

Also yesterday, it was revealed that Bell had worked recently in the office of D.C. Council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, as a receptionist employed by a temp agency. Mr. Barry’s office issued a letter terminating its contract with NAI Personnel.

“The behavior of your employee, although outside of work, indicates that you may not have properly investigated her background prior to placing her in our office,” wrote Keith A. Perry, Mr. Barry’s chief of staff.

The incident occurred at about 7:45 p.m. when Bell, with her 7-year-old daughter inside the vehicle, drove through police barricades and sent people, strollers and food flying, police and witnesses said. Police said she had hit a police cruiser about 20 minutes before driving through the festival. Police were told not to chase her because the first incident was not serious.

Authorities said they think Bell was going about 70 mph when she drove through Unifest, a church-sponsored festival.

Bell appeared to be laughing as she drove the car with flattened tires and broken windows into the crowd, said Linda Greene, who saw the car from her porch.

“The car just passed so fast, and all of a sudden I just heard people screaming,” said Denise Jackson. “I turned around, and it was like bodies falling out of the sky.”

Mrs. Jackson’s son, 4-year-old Marcellus, was thrown out of the speeding car’s path by his father, but the boy suffered a broken leg. He was released from Children’s Hospital yesterday.

“At least three dozen people were struck by the defendant’s vehicle” at Unifest, according to the charging document. “Some of the people were knocked down on the roadway and at least one person was knocked onto the hood and windshield of the vehicle.”

Bell’s daughter is in the custody of Child Protective Services while her mother is detained or until a guardian is found.

Bell appeared in court dressed in tan hospital attire with a soft cast on her left ankle, which likely was injured in one of the collisions or when she eventually was detained by festivalgoers and police officers, who used their motorized scooters to stop her car.

Prosecution records state that while Bell was being treated Saturday at Greater Southeast Hospital for minor injuries, she told police she had been “smoking crack all day.”

Bell has been convicted of seven other charges since 1996:

n March 30, 1996: Simple assault. Given two years’ probation, which was revoked June 17, 1998. She then was incarcerated.

n May 4, 1999: Escape from institution. Given nine months’ probation.

n May 1, 2001: Cocaine distribution. Given five months’ unsupervised probation.

n Feb. 10, 2000: Violated bail reform law.

n Aug. 11, 2001: Cocaine possession. Released from jail March 29, 2002.

n June 7, 2002: Attempted cocaine distribution. Her probation was revoked, and she spent 100 days in jail.

n Nov. 24, 2003: Tampering with physical evidence. Jailed 10 days.

At least one man attended the court hearing yesterday to support Bell.

Ali Khan, a friend who had employed Bell when she was a child, said she struggled with drug addiction for years.

“She had a lot of problems,” Mr. Khan said after the hearing. “I think drugs were a way out for her.”

n Regina Lee and Andrea Benda contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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