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Teen driver enters not-guilty plea on vehicular homicide charges
COUPEVILLE — The teenager who was behind the wheel in a tragic car accident that killed three young men earlier this month near Clinton entered a not-guilty plea during her arraignment on charges of vehicular homicide in Island County Superior Court Monday.
Authorities claim Kaylea F. Souza, 18, of Langley, had been drinking malt liquor before getting into her 2003 Chevrolet Malibu the night of Nov. 11. Police say Souza was driving south on Wilkinson Road just after midnight Nov. 12 when she tried to pass another car on the two-lane rural road, lost control of her car and hit a tree. Passers-by pulled Souza from the wreck, but flames quickly engulfed the Malibu before the three passengers could be rescued.
Charles "Mack" Porter III, 19, Robert Knight, 22, and Marcel "Mick" Poynter, 20 were killed in the accident.
Souza spoke only once during the hearing, which lasted less than 10 minutes.
"Ms. Souza, do you understand the charges against you in this case?" asked Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock.
"Yes, your honor," she replied.
The judge then entered Souza's plea on her behalf.
Peter Simpson, Souza's attorney, then asked the judge to lower bail from $150,000 to $15,000.
"She has no criminal history," Simpson said. "She is young, but nevertheless, [has] no criminal history at all."
"There's no indication that she would fail to appear for her court hearings if she is able to post a lower bail," he added.
Simpson said Souza would live at her father's house in Langley if she was released.
"She's lived there since the second grade," he said, except for a brief time when she was in high school.
Simpson also noted that she has strong ties to the community.
"There has been a significant outpouring of support for her already," he said.
Simpson said Souza was a recent graduate of Bayview School, finishing high school on time in four years, with plans to attend college. She also had a job as a server at a South End restaurant.
"She does not make very much money … making minimum wage, so she does not have significant assets," Simpson said.
Souza also cooperated with law enforcement after the accident, and would follow any court orders in the future, he said.
"There is every incentive for her to face this head on," Simpson added. "There's not only a potential for a criminal sanction, but there is the real fact that this is affecting her, as well. These were friends of hers."
"There is also a moral element, where she would be compelled to follow through to make sure that her reputation in the community is upheld," he sad.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney David Carman said there was no objection to the bail amount being reduced, pointing to Souza's lack of criminal history and her longtime residency in the county.
But based on the serious nature of the felony charges, Carman suggested that reasonable bail could fall between $15,000 and $150,000.
Carman asked that the previous conditions for bail — that she not drive under any circumstances, or refuse any drug or alcohol tests, and not use alcohol or drugs — be kept in place. He also asked the court to require that Souza wear a alcohol-monitoring bracelet if she was released.
Simpson, however, said the bracelet monitor would be too expensive for someone of Souza's financial means.
"This case could take months to resolve," Simpson added.
Hancock agreed to reduce bail to $75,000, but kept the original bail conditions in place.
The judge said the bail was appropriate given the three counts of vehicular homicide.
"On the other hand, given the community ties that have been outlined, the lack of criminal history, the reduction to $75,000 would be in line," Hancock said.
He said the monitoring bracelet was not needed given the other conditions that were set for her release on bail.
Souza was led from the courtroom after her arraignment by two corrections deputies.
Her friends and family gathered outside the courtroom afterward and exchanged hugs.
Souza's trial has been set for Jan. 24.
If convicted of vehicular homicide, Souza faces a sentence of four to five and a half years.