Jury convicts Garcia in accident that killed Forest Grove sisters

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Betty Campbell
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Wednesday, January 15, 2014
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A jury has found Cinthya Garcia-Cisneros guilty on both counts of failing to perform the duties of a driver — a class C felony — in the accident that killed Abigail Robinson, 11, and Anna Dieter-Eckerdt, 6, of Forest Grove.

The sisters died after a car driven by Garcia (she does not use Cisneros) hit them while they were playing in a pile of fall leaves near their home on Main Street on Oct. 20, 2013.

Garcia will be sentenced at 2:30 p.m. Friday, Jan 31, in Washington County Circuit Court. She faces a sentence of probation to 16 to 18 months for each count. In addition, Garcia faces an immigration hold and almost-certain deportation, according to her immigration attorney and two other attorneys not connected with the case. She was brought to the United States illegally when she was 4, and is living here legally because of the Deferred Action Childhood Arrival program.

In closing arguments Wednesday morning, Senior Deputy District Attorney Bracken McKey made clear this was not a case of manslaughter or homicide. “There is no evidence in this case that would have led one to believe she intentionally ran over two children in the leaves.”

He detailed the Oregon law that requires an exchange of information — driver’s license, registration, proof of insurance, name and address — when an accident occurs and told jurors that disregarding any of the duties listed in the law would require a verdict of guilty. “The bottom line is this: you have an obligation to help somebody,” he said.

McKey returned to the moment Mario Garcia (he and Cinthya do not use the Cisneros) told his sister she had run over children in the leaf pile. “At that point, she had an obligation to return to the scene,” he said. “It is not only morally the right thing to do, but is also required by law.”

Defense counsel Ethan Levi attempted to soften the hearts of the jurors in his appeal. “Every day Cinthya Garcia has been in the Washington County Jail waiting for this trial. Cinthya Garcia has thought every day about those horrible events.” As he spoke, Susan Dieter-Robinson quickly left the courtroom.

He emphasized that due to her compromised mental state, Garcia did not cognitively understand that she had been involved in an accident. “This jury instruction makes it clear you have to know you are involved in an accident,” he pointed out, adding that you also had to know the accident caused injury.

In fact, he later stated, if someone called him after being involved in such an accident, he would read the law and advise his client that he didn’t think they had a duty to return.

Levi also focused on the youth of his client. “Imagine you are 18 years old, you are a kid, you are innocent, you are not that familiar with the law. You are not a person with sophistication, you are a person who just learned how to drive a car. You are still living in your father’s house.”

Levi also stated that according to the law, a driver may not be convicted under the theory that she failed to provide aid or arrange conveyance to a hospital unless she believed under the circumstances that she could render reasonable assistance. By the time Mario Garcia arrived home to tell his sister of the aftermath of the accident, paramedics were on site. Therefore, he said, there was no assistance that Garcia could appropriately render.

'She's a good person'

In rebuttal, McKey reminded jurors that although she is young, a person can obtain a driver’s license at age 16. He also noted that “We send young men and women to Afghanistan and we expect them to make life and death decisions every day at age 18,” adding that when they make a mistake in those duties, they are held responsible. “This is consistently an age of responsibility.”

McKey then used testimony for the defense against the young woman, reminding the jury that Garcia was tasked as the mother of this family, and was the eldest of the three involved.

As they watched the final day of trial, the family of Anna and Abigail was joined by their pastor, Rudy Tinoco, from Sonrise Church in Forest Grove. Two other pastors from the church were present, including one who sat and offered comfort to spectators on both sides of the case.

Jury members re-entered the courtroom after less than three hours of deliberation and looked directly at the judge. Susan Dieter-Robinson sat in the front row with her husband, nervously handling tissues. Tinoco sat next to Tom Robinson, taking the time to put his arm around the grieving father’s shoulder. At the opposite end of the bench, the father of Anna Dieter-Eckerdt, Randall Eckerdt, sat somberly with Jane Samuels, his fiancée.

Cinthya Garcia rose as Washington County Circuit Court Judge Rick Knapp read the guilty verdicts.

As the attorneys argued about the date of sentencing, Garcia sobbed. Her brother, Mario, sat quietly, showing no emotion.

“It’s a really sad case,” said McKey after the trial. Due to Garcia’s actions that night, the family wasn’t able to say goodbye to their children, he said. “The defendant is guilty, but that doesn’t bring back the kids.”

According to McKey, punishment could range from probation to 16 to 18 months for each count. In addition, Garcia faces an immigration hold and almost-certain deportation, according to her immigration attorney and two other attorneys not connected with the case.

She was brought to the U.S. illegally when she was 4 years old and is living in the U.S. legally only because of the Deferred Action Childhood Arrival program.

Nia Jarnica, a friend of Garcia, was distressed by the verdict. “I know her. She’s a good person. This was an accident. It could have happened to anybody.”