Ashcraft gets probation in fatal hit-and-run

Apr. 18, 2013 @ 09:42 PM

Tiffany Ashcraft pleaded guilty on Wednesday to two misdemeanors in the April 2012 hit-and-run death of Joshua Crowley.

She will serve two years probation and wear an alcohol monitor for six months.

No reason was given for the alcohol monitor order in open court.

“There’s no evidence she’d been drinking that night,” N.C Conference of District Attorneys special prosecutor Sarah Garner said. “She’s under 21, so it’s not legal for her to drink anyway. The monitor is just to make sure the law is being followed.”

The case was handed over to the NCCDA for prosecution by the Union County District Attorney’s office early this year.

Ashcraft accepted a plea deal on one count of death by motor vehicle and failure to stop and render aid when involved in an accident resulting in serious injury or death. Both charges are Class 1 misdemeanors.

Union County District Court Judge Steve Higdon sentenced Ashcraft to a total of 105 days but suspended the sentence, two years probation, one year of drivers license revocation, 75 hours of community service and and ordered her to pay restitution to Crowley’s family for funeral expenses. She was also ordered to write a five-page research paper about driving safety, give five presentations on the dangers of texting while driving and wear an alcohol monitor for six months.

Opening the court proceedings, Garner said that if the case were to go to trial it would show Crowley was with a group of people at a party the night of April 7, 2012.

His friends wanted to go out but he did not, she said. He chose to walk home at about 9:30 p.m.

A witness stated later she saw a pedestrian she recognized as Crowley wearing an orange shirt walking on the side of Potter Road. The driver did not stop, Garner said.

Two witnesses driving some 50 yards behind a silver Lexus SUV on Potter Road that night told police they saw the SUV make an abrupt swerve some time between 10 p.m. and 10:15 p.m.

“They did see gravel spin out when the car swerved,” she said. “They did not see a collision. They said they thought at the time there had been a deer in the roadway.”

In a short distance, the witnesses said the SUV pulled off into the Heather Glen subdivision entrance. The driver got out and looked at the front passenger side damage.

At 9:58 p.m., Ashcraft sent a text message that read “hit a deer”, Garner said.

“The next morning, on April the 8th, at approximately 6:15 in the morning, a gentleman was traveling on Potter Road and he saw something orange on the side of the road,” Garner said. “It struck him as strange and he went around, went back and he found the victim, Joshua Crowley, there dead.”

Using evidence on the scene, the N.C. Highway Patrol asked the local media to report a search for the silver SUV. After a tip, troopers established that Ashcraft was driving the vehicle. According to their estimates, she was going 56 mph in a 45 mph zone.

“She struck and killed Joshua Crowley, causing massive head trauma to him,” Garner said.

Ashcraft did not stop at the scene, Garner said. She continued driving home.

“She told her father what happened,” she said. “He called his insurance that night to report that his daughter hit a deer, which is what she told him.”

After media reports of a Lexus SUV sought by NCHP in a traffic fatality, the father called authorities to report that his daughter might have been the driver.

Tuesday, he called the insurance company to amend his initial report.

The defense argued that Crowley’s cause of death was never officially determined.

“They never conducted a complete autopsy on Mr. Crowley,” defense attorney Kenneth Honeycutt said. “Though they did draw fluid...tested .13 alcohol content.”

At the time, Ashcraft was 17 years old, was a high school student, had no prior record and had been driving for less than a year.

Several members of Crowley’s family spoke to Higdon. Paternal grandparents Lester and Doris Hartis lamented losing their only grandchild.

“I had two best friends. One was my wife and he was the other,” Lester said. “Now I have just one.”

The couple got custody of Crowley at 5 years old when his father died suddenly, Doris said. They raised him like a son. She described a vibrant young man eager to help anyone but never expecting payment or reward.

“He was our life,” Doris said.

While she spoke, Ashcraft sat at the defense table, looking straight on and sometimes dabbing her eyes with a tissue.

“Tiffany, this is the first time I’ve seen you in person,” Doris said. “I know you know you made a mistake. You were probably scared. I know I would be. But I do wish you’d have stopped and called 911 so he didn’t have to lay there in the cold that night.”

Even if his last moments were attended by a stranger, it would have comforted her to know there was someone to hold his hand and rub his head as he died.

“But Tiffany, I hope you never forget what you did to him and the very painful hurt that you brought on his family, his friends and loved ones,” Doris said.

Comments by Mildred Broad, Crowley’s maternal grandmother, were biting.

“I hope every day you see his face on the windshield of your car,” she said.

Honeycutt stood and offered an apology.

“To his family...I’d like to express my client’s most sincere sympathies and regrets of the consequences of her actions on that night, resulting in the loss of his life,” he said.

Honeycutt said his six-month-old nephew died in a traffic accident years ago, so he understood their pain.

“It’s a terrible tragedy, but life has to go on,” Honeycutt said.

“As to Mr. Crowley’s friends at the party that night, you’ve been quite ferocious in your criticisms of Ms. Ashcraft,” he said. “There is very little that I can do to relieve the guilt you must feel for allowing Mr. Crowley to leave the party while intoxicated, walking along a dark, secondary road.”

At Honeycutt’s urging, Ashcraft stood, swept her hair back and spoke to the other side of the room.

“You guys can have your opinions and that’s fine,” she said. “I just want to say I’m sorry for your loss and I know me saying that doesn’t bring back anything, but I just wanted to let you know that I’m sorry.”