- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 3, 2017

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - The Oregon Court of Appeals on Wednesday reversed the conviction of a motorist who drove an SUV into a pile of leaves that concealed two girls, killing them.

The opinion written by Judge James Egan said it’s established that Cinthya Garcia-Cisneros wasn’t immediately aware she hit 6-year-old Anna Dieter-Eckerdt and 11-year-old Abigail Robinson, the stepsisters who were playing in the leaf pile in October 2013. Oregon law, the opinion states, does not contain an “implicit requirement” that a driver return to the scene after learning of an accident sometime later.

Garcia-Cisneros was 19 when she was found guilty of failing to perform the duties of a driver to injured persons. She was sentenced to probation and community service, and faced possible deportation before eventually being released from an immigration detention center.

Garcia-Cisneros, brought to the U.S. from Mexico as a 4-year-old, was on her way home from getting fast food when she drove through leaves that were raked near the curb on Main Street in Forest Grove, a small town west of Portland.

Garcia-Cisneros plowed through the pile shortly before 8:30 p.m., she testified, and felt a bump.

Her brother, who was a passenger, later passed the scene on his way to his girlfriend’s house. He saw a man standing over the pile, screaming.

He returned home and told his sister she may have hit children. She didn’t identify herself as the driver until police tracked her down the next day.

A prosecutor told jurors at the January 2014 trial that Garcia-Cisneros’ decision not to come forward was morally and legally wrong.

The defense told jurors that Garcia-Cisneros was in a state of denial, clinging to hope that she wasn’t responsible. Moreover, the defense argued, Oregon law doesn’t say anything about the requirements of a driver who isn’t immediately aware of an accident.

The appeal court agreed, saying the trial judge should have granted a motion for acquittal.

“The state argues that it ‘would leave an irrational gap in the statutory structure’ to relieve drivers of those duties based on a claimed lack of knowledge at the time of the accident,” Egan wrote. “The state may be right in identifying a statutory gap, but it is not our role to fill that gap for the Legislature.”

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Follow Steven DuBois at twitter.com/pdxdub

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