Vigil crash driver in court

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A 20-year-old woman pleaded not guilty Tuesday to hitting five people at a vigil six months ago held for another man who was killed the week before walking in the same spot.

Rochelle B. Taylor, of Logan Avenue, entered the plea in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court to charges of fifth-degree felony failing to stop after an accident and second-degree misdemeanor obstructing official business.

She was released on her own recognizance and a pretrial was scheduled for Sept. 17.

Investigators said Taylor 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.

Investigators interviewed Taylor the night of the crash but lied to investigators at the time, which resulted in the obstruction charge.

Investigators 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.

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

Some at the vigil believed the crash was intentional. Witnesses said the car had its headlights off despite it being dark. Investigators said they never believed the crash was intentional.

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.

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