MIAMI (CBSMiami) — The driver who hit and killed two University of Miami (UM) doctoral students from China took the stand Wednesday in a civil case against her.
Ying Chen, 27, and Hau Liu, 26, were working on their doctoral degrees at UM in engineering. They were crossing Kendall Drive at an intersection just east of Dixie Highway at about 8 p.m. on October 16th, when they were hit by Milady Pequeno’s Porsche which then sped off.
Pequeno was called by the plaintiffs’ attorney and testified she didn’t see the students until one of them smashed into her windshield.
“Never, never,” she replied when asked if she saw them coming or passing in front of her car.
In a dramatic demonstration, plaintiff attorney Deborah Gander used the wrecked front end and windshield of Pequeno’s car, in the courtroom, getting her to acknowledge that the students crossed a lane of traffic, and passed almost entirely across the front of the car before being struck.
When asked why she didn’t see the students, she could only reply, “I don’t know. I don’t know”
Pequeno conceded she had been looking at her grandson in a child seat in the back of her Porsche and was talking with her mom who was in the passenger seat.
Pequeno admitted driving on after the impact, and being made to stop by another driver about a block away.
“He was screaming at you, ‘you killed them!’ correct, asked Gander. “Yes,” Pequeno replied.
Pequeno has claimed an SUV, driving in the lane beside her, may have screened her view of the students crossing the roadway. She made no mention of that, however, at the time, bringing it up only after a lawsuit was filed against her.
Gander asked Pequeno why she made no mention of any SUV when questioned extensively by police.
“I was so nervous, I was so nervous,” she replied.
The attorney derided Pequeno’s story.
“There was no driver who stopped and said ‘My God, you just killed two people!'” The attorney asked. “No, Ma’am,” Pequeno replied.
Earlier, the only known eyewitness to the crash, Marta Puente, testified about what she saw.
“They were crossing, and I see the impact with the car,” Puente said. “I believe if she had swerved, if she had braked, nothing would have happened to them.”
On cross examination, defense attorney Richard Adams pointed out inconsistencies between Puente’s testimony and a prior, sworn statement when she said she heard, but did not see the impact.
In a break, with the jury out of the room, Pequeno broke down sobbing. Judge Migna Sanchez-Llorens admonished her not to show her emotions when the jury returned.
“You must compose yourself,” the judge said.
Earlier in the day, other witnesses took the stand.
The first witness for the plaintiffs was Miami Police Lieutenant Javier Ortiz, who testified that the impact of the car hitting the students was so loud he heard it from inside his car as he drove from a CVS nearby.
Ortiz, who was off duty, parked his car with flashing lights to block other cars from striking the victims.
He recognized that both young people were horribly injured. He began CPR on Chen, believing her to be the one most seriously hurt.
During his testimony, the officer looked directly at the victims’ parents in the courtroom, and his voice choked as he apologized for not being able to do more to help their children.
Calvert Evers and his daughter, Amanda, testified via video tape that they heard the accident as they were out walking.
The father said he heard no squeal of brakes.
“No, no tires, no brakes, no nothing,” he said.
Amanda told her a witness thought Pequeno might be trying to leave the scene, telling her that he flagged her car down about a block away.
“He saw her and it looked like she wasn’t even going to stop,” Evers testified. “He told me that he had to stop her.”
That witness has never been found and did not speak to police the night of the accident.
The case is being heard by a six member jury of three men and three women. In a rare departure, Judge Sanchez-Llorens is permitting members of the jury to be video taped. At the request of CBS4 News, the judge polled the jurors, and none objected to being televised.