Vigil crash driver charged

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A 20-year-old woman was indicted Thursday for hitting five people at a vigil six months ago held for another man who was killed the week before walking in the same spot.

Investigators said Rochelle B. Taylor, of Logan Avenue, had no driver’s license and didn’t know how to drive on Feb. 8 when she crashed into a large group of people gathered to mourn the loss of Robert Brown Jr., 23, on West Hylda Avenue.

She was indicted Thursday by a Mahoning County grand jury on a fifth-degree felony charge of failing to stop after an accident and second-degree misdemeanor obstructing official business.

Youngstown police accident investigator Sgt. Patty Garcar said she spoke with Taylor the night of the crash but Taylor lied to investigators at the time, which resulted in the obstruction charge.

“This was a young person who didn’t know how to drive and lied about it afterwards,” Garcar said. “She’s not one of your more experienced criminals.”

Garcar said Taylor turned on Hylda Avenue and panicked after she saw a large group of between 50 and 100 people at the vigil on the narrow road. She struck five people, including one, Tyler Austin, who was taken to St. Elizabeth Health Center in critical condition, and panicked even more, Garcar said.

Garcar said Taylor was not under the influence of any drugs or alcohol that night.

“She’s an inexperienced driver and it was a crowded street that night,” Garcar said. “She turned on that road, she doesn’t know how to drive and panicked. Once she hit the crowd, the panic continued and she drove back home where the owner of the car lives and where she was living.”

Some at the vigil believed the crash was intentional. Witnesses said the car had its headlights off despite it being dark.

“From day one we never thought it was intentional,” Garcar said. “It was totally unrelated.”

Taylor had not yet been arrested on the charges Friday afternoon.

Five people were hospitalized because of the crash, including Chester Mitchell, 19, whose ankle was broken. He needed a plate and two screws inserted to repair the damage.

Austin was in an induced coma for more than a week because of head trauma and has had multiple surgeries, with more planned, to repair a shattered leg.

The large crowd had gathered to honor Brown, who was killed five days before at the same location on West Hylda Avenue. Brown, who was leaving a party at Duka’s bar, was knocked several feet in the air despite a friend trying to pull him away from the car.

He died the next day.

Michael J. Johnson Jr., 24, of Rosewood Avenue, was indicted on second-degree felony charges of aggravated vehicular homicide and tampering with evidence. Court records show Johnson’s license was suspended at the time of the crash.

At the vigil, Brown’s father, Robert Brown Sr., was talking on camera to WKBN’s Natalie Jovonovich when cameras picked up the sound of the crash and the ensuing chaos.

“It was bad timing,” Garcar said.

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