Originally created 06/05/06

2 dead in wreck after shoplifting



Two people and an unborn child died Sunday afternoon when their car was struck at one of Columbia County's busiest intersections by a driver fleeing the scene of a shoplifting, according to Columbia County authorities.

According to police, an SUV struck the victims' Chrysler Cirrus at Bobby Jones Expressway and Washington Road in Martinez.

Columbia County Deputy Coroner Vernon Collins identified the deceased as Margaret Patricia Branton, 63, of Padrick Street in Martinez, and her son, Lonnie D. Turner, 37. Both were killed instantly, Mr. Collins said.

Mr. Turner's pregnant wife, Mary, was in the back seat of the Chrysler with a 4-year-old child. Both were treated at Medical College of Georgia Hospital. Mrs. Turner, who was in critical condition Sunday, was 16 to 20 weeks along in the pregnancy, and she lost the child, according to Columbia County sheriff's Maj. Rick Whitaker.

The Turners had recently moved to Martinez from Canton, Ga., and were living with Mr. Turner's mother, the major said.

The driver of the SUV, Tiara Maria Smith, 20, faces two counts of first-degree vehicular homicide, running a red light, speeding, riding with an unrestrained child and other traffic offenses, Maj. Whitaker said.

She also faces one charge of feticide. A bill passed by Georgia lawmakers this year, which goes into effect July 1, expands feticide to the killing of any unborn child, regardless of the stage of pregnancy. The current law defines feticide as killing a fetus that has reached "quickening," or when the mother can feel the fetus moving, usually around the 20th week of pregnancy.

Shoplifting charges are also pending, Maj. Whitaker said. A store security tape needs to be viewed, he said.

At about 4 p.m., police received a call reporting a shoplifting at Marshalls clothing store at Mullins Crossing shopping center. The suspects, two women, were in a black Ford Explorer, police said. A 7-year-old girl also was in the SUV, Maj. Whitaker said.

The crash occurred at 4:12 p.m., according to sheriff's Lt. Andy Shedd.

The SUV overturned in the roadway. Nebula McNeely, 42, was ejected and airlifted from the scene by a medical helicopter that landed on Washington Road, Maj. Whitaker said. Ms. McNeely and the 7-year-old were treated at MCG.

Police were not chasing the SUV when the crash occurred, Lt. Shedd said.

Darlene Johnson, who was in a car with her husband, Michael, said she saw the Explorer traveling eastbound on Washington Road. It "T-boned" the Chrysler, which had been traveling northbound from Bobby Jones onto Old Evans Road, she said.

Reach Timothy Cox at (706) 823-3217 or tim.cox@augustachronicle.com.