- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2008

An Oxon Hill woman was sentenced yesterday to 25 years in prison for injuring 49 persons as she drove her vehicle through a D.C. street festival while high on crack cocaine.

The driver, Tonya Bell, 30, apologized tearfully to the victims, including eight who testified at the D.C. Superior Court hearing about the lingering physical and psychological effects from the June 2 incident.

“I apologize to each one of you for the pain I caused,” said Bell as she dabbed a white cloth to her cheeks. “I sorrow for what I did to each of you, for the damage I caused, the injuries, and to my daughter.”

Judge Herbert B. Dixon Jr. then imposed the sentence for four counts of aggravated assault while armed; 10 counts of assaults with a dangerous weapon, the station wagon; and second-degree cruelty to children. The last charge was for Bell having her 7-year-old daughter in her Volvo station wagon.

Bell received the maximum sentence allowed under the plea agreement she reached with prosecutors. She also must pay $4,500 in court costs and be supervised for five years after release from prison.

Bell pleaded guilty to the charges in October, admitting she had been smoking $700 worth of crack cocaine in the 24 hours before driving through the Unifest Street Festival in Anacostia.

At speeds that sometimes reached 70 mph, Bell made two passes through the area, knocking people to the side and under the vehicle as she went. A police officer who tried to pull her over said she was laughing as she drove. The Volvo station wagon was finally stopped when officers crashed their scooters under the vehicle, and a man jumped through the window to put the transmission in park.

Two police officers were among the injured.

One victim, Arnold Jefferson, was found dead on a D.C. street in September, after a lengthy hospitalization for head injuries.

His family said he was depressed and think his death was related to the accident, although authorities have not classified it as such.

“She struck my entire family,” Mr. Jefferson’s fiancee, Tonya Walker-Allen, said of Bell.

Miss Walker-Allen said Bell also hit her daughter and her 1-year-old grandson.

Shirlena Butler, 52, said her 15-year-old niece, Viante, still has tire marks across her chest.

“It tore her skin all the way across her abdomen,” she said.

A man identified as Pastor Flemming said that when Bell’s vehicle came to a stop, he tried to help her injured daughter and Bell because people “were trying to stomp her head.”

“I’m pleading now,” he said. “She needs some help. I recall being in drug problems. But for the grace of God, it was not me driving that car.”

Public defender Jason Tulley said Bell understands the pain she caused and that she has had a troubled life including a mother who abused her, a stepfather who was a “perpetrator of domestic violence” and grandparents who abandoned her.

In 2004 to 2005, Bell was an aide to D.C. Council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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