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Emotions high during arraignment of driver in birthday party crash that killed siblings

"This woman crashed her car through this building, destroying all of our lives," the aunt of the victims said in court.
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Posted at 8:09 AM, Apr 24, 2024

The suspect in the deadly crash at the Swan Boat Club in Berlin Township, Michigan, on Saturday was arraigned Tuesday morning.

Marshella Chidester, 66, was arraigned in court on eight charges, including two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of operating while intoxicated/impaired causing death and four counts of OWI causing serious injury. She was given a $1.5 million bond with conditions, including not operating a motor vehicle, substance abuse monitoring and a GPS tether.

Chidester crashed into the boat club on Saturday afternoon as it was hosting a child's birthday party. According to the sheriff's office, 8-year-old Alanah Phillips and 4-year-old Zayn Phillips were pronounced dead at the scene.

During the arraignment, the prosecution asked for a $1.5 million bond and said that they have substantial evidence in the case and that the suspect had a substance abuse issue.

In arguing against the high bond, Chidester's attorney, Bill Colovos, said that Chidester has never had any traffic citations and that Chidester has a history of having seizures since last November, saying that it was an "epileptic-type seizure in her legs."

"This is not a monster. It's horrible what happened, but some things we don't have control over," Colovos said when asking for a $100,000 bond with cash/surety 10%.

The arraignment was interrupted several times on Zoom by people watching, including a woman who said she was the grandmother of the children who were killed.

A third sibling was seriously injured in the crash, as was their mother, Mariah Dodds.

Raquel Smothers, the aunt of the three children, also spoke during the arraignment in person, saying, "We were supposed to be planning a birthday party for Zayn not a funeral."

Mariah Dodds and her three children pose for a photo
Mariah Dodds and her three children pose for a photo.

"They walked into that birthday party having a fun time. They were sitting at that table eating and this woman crashed her car through this building, destroying all of our lives," she added.

The brother of the kids' father also spoke via Zoom during the arraignment.

"My brother is in the hospital right now praying that his little boy comes through and he still gotta tell his son that he lost his sister and brother," he said.

The judge set a probable cause hearing for April 30 with a preliminary examination scheduled for May 6.

On Tuesday, Marko Law, PLLC announced a lawsuit filed against the suspected driver and Verna's Tavern following the fatal crash. A press conference is scheduled for 10 a.m. on April 24.

An attorney representing Verna's Tavern told 7 News Detroit that the suspect was at the establishment between 11 a.m. and noon Saturday, hours before the deadly crash. He added that the woman's order was reportedly just over $7 and included a glass of wine and chili.

Attorney John McManus released the following statement on behalf of Verna's Tavern:

"We are saddened beyond words by the news of this horrible tragedy. Our most sincere thoughts and prayers go out to all those that lost their lives, their family members, witnesses and all of our Community that is in pain due to this incident. We ask for patience during the investigation and that the Justice system be allowed to work to uncover the actual facts surrounding the accident."

This story was originally published by Scripps News Detroit.