Carjacking charge remains for DC woman accused of stealing running SUV with passenger inside

There’s probable cause for an unarmed carjacking charge against a D.C. woman accused of stealing an SUV with an ill patient in the passenger seat earlier this week, a D.C. Superior Court judge ruled Friday.

During the hourslong preliminary hearing, Judge Renee Raymond ordered that 22-year-old Kayla Kenisha Brown be held without bond.

Brown is accused of stealing an SUV that was running outside the emergency room at MedStar Washington Hospital Center on Monday. Police say she entered the Mazda SUV, which had 55-year-old Leslie Marie Gaines in the passenger seat, and drove off.

The incident concluded when the car crashed into a downtown D.C. building. Gaines ultimately died after the incident, police said.

Initially, police said Brown is facing carjacking, kidnapping and felony murder charges. The U.S. Attorney for D.C.’s office has only filed the unarmed carjacking charge to date. The office said additional charges are under investigation.

In announcing her decision to hold Brown without bond, Raymond said “it is a fact that the behavior demonstrated here is … a dangerous series of actions.”

In court Friday, D.C. Police Detective Roberto Torres detailed the series of conversations he had with Gaines’ daughter in the aftermath of the incident. After a physical therapy appointment, Gaines complained of blurry vision and almost fainted getting into the car.

Her daughter made a 911 call, played during court proceedings, and responders found that her blood sugar was high, but her vitals were normal and a stroke test was negative.

Gaines’ daughter then drove to the emergency room entrance, left the car running with Gaines in it, and entered to get her mom a wheelchair, court documents say. That’s when Brown is accused of entering the driver’s seat and driving away.

A special police officer at the hospital first asked Gaines’ daughter whether she knew the woman who had just driven off with the car, according to court documents. The car didn’t emerge again until it crashed into a building in the 400 block of 6th Street NW. Brown tried to flee on foot, but a nearby officer who saw the crash intervened, police said.

Gaines’ state-of-being throughout the incident was front-and-center during Friday’s hearing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jamie Carter argued that although Gaines wasn’t feeling well, she had control of the car, and her daughter described her as conscious and alert before the car was taken.

But Brown’s attorney, Sylvia Smith, raised questions about the sequence of events that led to Gaines’ death and whether Gaines was aware of what was happening and in control of the car.

A D.C. Fire and EMS report of the incident, projected on a court screen, said responders were unable to discern whether Gaines’ cardiac arrest was the result of trauma from the crash or other medical reasons.

Carter, the AUSA, argued that unarmed carjacking is an appropriate charge, because Brown didn’t have the right or permission to enter the SUV and did so voluntarily.

Smith, though, said that while a charge such as unauthorized use of a vehicle could be reasonable, unarmed carjacking is excessive, because Brown didn’t use force or violence in taking the car, and Gaines didn’t have possession or control of it.

In explaining her conclusion, Raymond, the judge, pointed to court documents that say that Gaines’ daughter got out of the car, “leaving the decedent as the sole occupant, and therefore in full possession of her vehicle and giving no one other than the decedent the right to utilize the vehicle.”

The Secure D.C. Act, recently signed into law, expanded the definition of carjacking to include incidents where nobody is in the driver’s seat.

At the end of the hearing, Smith said the case is a difficult one “all around” and that “there’s a lot of pressure on this court and the U.S. Attorney’s Office” to take action on violent crime in D.C. Raymond responded that the court doesn’t respond to perceived pressure.

Raymond ordered Brown to be held at St. Elizabeths psychiatric hospital.

Gaines’ and Brown’s family members, and Smith, Brown’s attorney, declined to comment after Friday’s proceeding.

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Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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