Crime

She said she wasn’t driving the car. The jury believed otherwise.

Kaleigh Ann Dartez
Kaleigh Ann Dartez

A 21-year-old Long Beach woman was convicted of felony DUI causing death in a 2014 crash.

A jury deliberated about an hour before returning a guilty verdict to Judge Lisa Dodson against Kaleigh Ann Dartezlate Thursday, District Attorney Joel Smith said in a press release Friday afternoon.

Testimony in the three-day trial detailed the investigation into a November 14, 2014, wreck that occurred north of I-10 on Kiln-Delisle Road.

Dartez was initially held on a $50,000 bond after arrest.

Deputies from the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office testified that after receiving a 911 call, they arrived on scene and located the intoxicated defendant walking down Kiln-Delisle Road at about 3 a.m. Shortly thereafter, the deputy located her wrecked car around 60 feet off the roadway.

The victim, identified as Zachary Whitfield, 21, was discovered dead near the wrecked car. It was later determined he had suffered a broken neck.

At trial, Dartez’s defense attempted to convince the jury that she was not driving the vehicle at the time of the crash.

Investigators were able to determine that Dartez was at a bar in Diamondhead with several acquaintances, including Whitfield. The jury was presented with evidence that showed Dartez and Whitfield left the bar, with Dartez driving her car and Whitfield in the passenger seat. Acquaintances testified that Dartez told them she was going to drive Whitfield back to his house, and one acquaintance testified she personally observed Dartez driving away from the bar with Whitfield in the passenger seat. A surveillance video showed Dartez get into the driver seat immediately before leaving the bar.

An accident reconstructionist was qualified as an expert witness and testified regarding his examination of the scene. He told the jury that in his expert opinion Dartez’s car crossed into the opposite lane of travel, attempted to correct itself, but then overcorrected, causing the car to leave the roadway and flip on its side, likely ejecting Whitfield from the car.

The prosecution also called three medical professionals to testify about their treatment of Dartez in the aftermath of the crash. They all testified that Dartez admitted to them, all at separate times, that she was driving her car when it wrecked. One of these admissions was captured on a deputy’s camera, and was played for the jury.

“The Sheriff’s Office collected both the driver and passenger airbag from the wrecked car and submitted them for forensic analysis. A DNA expert analyzed them and found Dartez’s DNA on the driver side airbag and Whitfield’s DNA on the passenger side airbag,” said ADA Matthew Burrell, who prosecuted the case with ADA Alison Baker.

The night of the crime, investigators obtained a search warrant for Dartez’s blood to be drawn and tested. Forensic analysis by the Mississippi Crime Lab indicated that she had a BAC of 0.219, almost three times the legal limit of 0.08.

After receiving the jury’s verdict, Judge Dobson scheduled a sentencing hearing for Monday. Dartez faces up to 25 years in prison.

Yolanda Cruz: 228-896-2340, @yoliecruz93

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