Woman Charged With Murder in Crash That Killed Young Brother and Sister at Birthday Party

Woman Charged With Murder in Crash That Killed Young Brother and Sister at Birthday Party
Authorities respond to the Swan Creek Boat Club after a driver crashed a vehicle through a building where a children's birthday party was taking place in Berlin Township, Mich., on April 20, 2024. (Kathleen Kildee/Detroit News via AP)

A Michigan woman was arraigned Tuesday on second-degree murder and other charges after prosecutors say she drunkenly crashed her SUV into a boat club that was hosting a child’s birthday party, killing a young brother and sister and injuring several other people.

Marshella Chidester, 66, did not enter a plea to the eight counts she faces in Saturday’s tragic crash at the Swan Boat Club in Monroe County, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of Detroit.

During a court hearing that was livestreamed, Chidester’s right arm was in a cast from just above the elbow to her fingers.

She has been jailed since the crash and the judge set her bond at the $1.5 million prosecutors requested after relatives of some of the victims asked him to set it at that level.

In arguing for the $1.5 million bond, prosecutor Jeff Yorkey told the court that Chidester has had substance abuse issues that were corroborated by her friends and family.

Defense attorney Bill Colovos asked the judge to set Chidester’s bond at $100,000. He said she only had a glass of wine and a bowl of chili four hours before the crash, and that she has suffered since November with “epileptic-type seizures in her legs.”

“This is not a monster, ” Colovos said. “It’s horrible what happened, but there are some things we don’t have control over.”

Colovos added that prior to Saturday’s crash, Chidester had no traffic tickets or police record.

Yorkey responded that there was no indication that Chidester suffered a seizure before the crash and that testing showed her blood alcohol level was “significantly over the legal limit.”

If Chidester posts bond, she will be required to forfeit her passport, have no alcohol, wear a tether and not drive. A probable cause conference has been scheduled for April 30 followed by a May 6 preliminary examination.

Chidester is a former commodore at the boat club, The Detroit News reported.

The crash killed 8-year-old Alanah Phillips and her 4-year-old brother, Zayn Phillips, the sheriff’s office said. Their mother, Mariah Dodds, and another sibling were among the injured.

The party was for the 3-year-old child of Dodds’ friend, according to a Detroit law firm representing Dodds’ family in a lawsuit against Chidester and the tavern where she reportedly was before the crash.

Dodds suffered broken ribs, a collapsed lung, cuts and bruises, according to the law firm. Her surviving son suffered broken legs, broken ribs and a fractured skull.

Raquel Smouthers told the court that she was at the party and witnessed the deaths of her nephew and niece.

“They were sitting at that table eating, and this woman crashed her car through this building destroying all of our lives,” a nearly inconsolable Smouthers said. “Nobody should ever have to go to a birthday party thinking that they’re gonna die.”

The boat club located off Swan Creek near Lake Erie is a membership-based organization that hosts holiday parties and other events, and provides docking space for members who own boats, according to its website. The club also advertises on social media that members can rent the clubhouse or pavilion for personal events including birthday parties.


By Corey Williams

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