MIAMI (CBSMiami) — In Miami’s Brickell neighborhood in March of last year, 52-year-old Ana Marie Mares had just left a sushi restaurant when she was struck and killed by a driver who kept on going.
The driver, Joy Terry Clayton, would later turn herself in to face a felony charge of leaving the scene of a fatal accident.
The victim’s family at the time grieved the loss of a woman who had conquered much in life.
“When she was 43, she was diagnosed with breast cancer,” said Mares’ sister, Adriana. “She was unbelievable. There was nothing she wouldn’t do for other people.”
Clayton admitted being behind the wheel of her Mazda that hit Mares. The car was found parked at her Cutler Bay home with a dented hood, shattered windshield and driver’s side rear view mirror knocked completely off and dangling on a wire.
Thursday, a year and a half after the fatal accident, Assistant State Attorney Jessica Dobbins made what was, for the victim’s family, a jaw-dropping announcement in court.
“It has been determined at this time that the state cannot disprove the defendant’s version of events,” Dobbins said. State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle’s office was dropping the case.
In a close-out memo dismissing the charge, Clayton is quoted as saying after the accident, “Something hit my car; I’m assuming it’s a bottle.” The memo goes on to say the state could not prove that Clayton knowingly left the scene of a fatality. The memo noted the lack of human “tissue” on the car that would have caused Clayton to later realize she may have hit someone. When CBS4 News examined the car last year, however, strands of human hair could be seen imbedded in the windshield.
No witnesses actually saw Mares get hit, but the sound of the impact immediately drew their attention to it.
Joe Rosenbaum, an attorney for the dead woman’s family was incredulous Thursday.
“She slows down but she doesn’t stop,” Rosenbaum told Judge Monica Gordo. “This is significant because of the damage to the car, the broken hood, the crashed windshield, the fact that the victim was inches from the driver’s face.”
Rosenbaum told reporters afterwards that if someone hit a dog, or a deer they would know it, and certainly “if they hit a 160-pound woman.”
Rosenbaum said the victim’s family is “very disappointed, very saddened, very distraught. They thought the case should have been prosecuted. They don’t agree with the state attorney.”
The family was so angry at the state’s decision to drop the case, members refused to attend Thursday’s hearing.
“They just could not bring themselves to be here today, to hear that the person charged with the crime would walk without any kind of consequence at all,” said Sally Matson, a victims’ advocate for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Clayton’s attorney, Patrick Dray, said she honestly didn’t know she had hit someone , and that the state would have erred had it taken her to trial.
“She’s a hard-working person. She’s very honest. She didn’t do anything wrong. There are no winners here,” Dray said.
State Attorney Rundle told CBS4’s Lauren Pastrana Thursday that her office “really, really tried to see if we could put a criminal case together” against Clayton, but could not prove that she knew she had hit a person.
“The burden is ours,” Rundle said. “It has to be beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt. It can’t just be 50/50. I feel very bad for the family of the victim.”
Clayton, who declined to speak to the media when she turned herself in last year, left court on Thursday without speaking to reporters.
To read the entire State Attorney’s report dismissing the case, click here.