Michigan woman to stand trial in crash that killed young brother and sister at birthday party

A Michigan woman has been ordered to stand trial in a crash that killed two siblings and injured several other people who were at a boat club to celebrate a child’s birthday.

Marshella Chidester, 66, was bound over Thursday to Monroe County Circuit Court on two counts of second-degree murder and other charges in the April 20 crash at the Swan Boat Club in Berlin Township, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of Detroit.

Authorities have said Chidester was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash. A deputy testified Thursday during Chidester’s preliminary examination in Monroe County District Court that a blood test at a hospital after the crash revealed her blood alcohol content was 0.18. The legal limit in Michigan for operating a vehicle is 0.08.

Deputies said Chidester told them she was headed to a birthday party at the boat club. She told one deputy that she had “passed out” while driving.

Surveillance video played Thursday showed a SUV barreling along an unpaved road leading to the boat club, then crashing into the building. After authorities arrived, police bodycam video showed the SUV stopped against a counter or wall as several injured people were being treated by first responders.

Monroe County sheriff’s deputy Steven Schmidt testified that the scene was chaotic. “There were injured people everywhere,” he said, adding that a small child who appeared not to be breathing was on the ground.

Killed were 8-year-old Alanah Phillips and her 4-year-old brother, Zayn Phillips. Their mother, Mariah Dodds, and another sibling were among the injured.

Dodds testified that the party was for the 3-year-old child of a friend.

Defense attorney Bill Colovos argued against the second-degree murder charges, saying there was no testimony that Chidester operated her vehicle with intent to cause the deaths.

He said during Chidester’s arraignment in April that she only had a glass of wine and a bowl of chili four hours before the crash, and that she has suffered since November with “epileptic-type seizures in her legs.”

Prosecutor Jeff Yorkey argued at Chidester’s arraignment that she has had substance abuse issues that were corroborated by her friends and family. Yorkey also said there was no indication that Chidester suffered a seizure before the crash.

Home surveillance video recorded just prior to the crash and played in court Thursday showed Chidester holding a railing and going step-by-step from her porch, then walking slowly to her SUV, which was parked next to a garage. As she backed out from the driveway, the SUV sped in reverse around the opposite side of the garage and slammed into a neighbor’s parked vehicle. The SUV then accelerated forward, past the garage, driveway and down the road.

Detective Sgt. Jeff Hooper testified that Chidester’s home is about 500 feet from the boat club near Lake Erie.

Chidester’s circuit court arraignment is scheduled for July 12.


Williams reported from West Bloomfield, Michigan.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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