NEWORLEANS- When Daphne Cola was hit and killed by a speeding ATV as she stepped onto Claiborne Avenue, it might have been handled as a traffic violation. An additional charge could have been added because the wrecked four-wheeler turned out to be stolen.
But because the driver and his passenger fled the scene, aided by others who tried to throw police off the trail, three people have now been booked in the crime.
Darrin Smith, the alleged driver of the ATV, appeared in court Thursday after being booked with manslaughter and possession of stolen property. Smith, 25, remains locked up after his bond was set at $230,000.
His alleged passenger at the time of the tragic July 27 joyride was Sadie Brown. Brown, 25, was released after posting a bond of $15,000 on charges of accessory to manslaughter and possession of stolen property.
A third defendant, Matthew Cousan, 26, was booked with accessory to manslaughter and obstruction of justice. Accused of hiding Brown and giving police false information, Cousan remains locked up on a $50,000 bond.
Cola, a 37-year-old mother of two, died in the hospital a week after the accident due to massive head injuries. She never regained consciousness after both her legs were broken and her head hit the pavement in front of Kermit's Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge.
Cola's sister, Tiffany Cola, rushed to her sister's aid after the accident. She remembers speaking briefly to Brown, who was injured, but said Brown did not offer assistance or information before fleeing the scene.
'Sadie Brown watched me cry and lay on the ground with my sister,' Cola said. 'She heard me plead with God and she left. So I have no mercy for her or him. I hope the judge gives them the maximum.'
The accident, captured on surveillance video, shows more than a dozen people scrambling at the scene. It also shows the driver and passenger leaving amid the commotion.
That video, along with tips from citizens, helped police develop leads from the outset, according to Lt. Anthony Micheu, commander of the NOPD Traffic Division.
'This is a five-week long investigation that we worked diligently with,' Micheu said. 'And like I said, we got some investigative tips, we got calls from the community, we engaged the community, we had video footage.'
After getting preliminary identifications of the suspects, DNA evidence led to arrest warrants for Smith and Brown, according to court records. DNA from blood on a baseball cap at the scene matched that of Smith, the records show, and DNA from blood on vehicle matched that of Brown.
'The magnitude of what these individuals did in the careless act of killing this woman and just leaving her to die like as if it was an animal was heart-wrenching to me as well as the family members,' Micheu said.
Micheu conceded that manslaughter would not have been considered if the driver and passenger had remained at the scene. Instead, they fled with the help of others as police arrived.
One of the people who allegedly helped in the cover-up was Cousan, Micheu said. Records show that Cousan is a convicted heroin dealer who recently was released from federal prison.
In an application for an arrest warrant for Cousan, Detective Edgar Edwards stated that Cousan misled police as soon as they drove up to the chaos.
Cousan 'misdirects the attention of the first responding officer to across the street away from the fleeing driver,' Edwards wrote.
'Mr. Cousan then gestures at Ms. Brown to stand behind him in order to obstruct the view of officers away from her,' the detective stated. 'Finally, Mr. Cousan escorts Ms. Brown away from the scene.'
Police are now continuing their investigation into other people who may have helped in the cover-up. Micheu said his detectives are closing in on additional suspects.
'We're going to go at every single person that's directly involved in this,' Micheu said, 'and we're going to continue to go until we find there is no further to go.'