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Motion to suppress denied in hit and run case

By Walter Geiger In an unexpected move during a bizarre hearing Sept. 14, suspected hit and run driver Bobbie Jo Sumner took the stand and shot down her own legal team’s motion to suppress statements she made to police after she was taken into custody on July 2, 2013. Sumner is charged with first degree vehicular homicide, hit and run and four counts of making false statements in connection with the June 29, 2013 death of Gordon student Alexandra Noelle Desir. Desir was on her way to work at Huddle House from her GSC dorm when she was struck and killed while walking on Rose Avenue. Auto parts left at the scene led authorities to search for a white Saturn Vue. Sumner owned a silver Saturn Vue. Officers Freddie Oates and Michael Rainer went to her Rogers Circle home on July 2, 2013 to inquire about the car. Sumner told them she had hit a deer and the car was in Griffin being repaired. The car was later located in Spalding County at the home of Robert Louis King. It had front end damage consistent with the fatality crash. Oates returned to Sumner’s home to tell her she needed to come to the police station to talk to investigators and she complied. Defense attorney Bubba Head previously argued Sumner thought she was under arrest at that time and had sought dash cam video from Oates’ patrol car to bolster that contention. However, the city’s video backup system had crashed and the video could not be retrieved. Head got permission from Judge Bill Fears to send the hard drives to an expert in Boston to attempt retrieval but later put Sumner on the stand and she admitted Oates did not coerce her into going with him to the station for questioning. After that session with investigators Al Moltrum and Craig Cooper, Sumner was charged in Desir’s death. On the stand, Sumner, 43, was talkative. Under questioning by Head, she said Oates and Ranier first visited her home between 3-4 p.m. She was at her home with Karren Owens whom she said had bought a truck from her late father and was paying for it in installments. Sumner’s father lived in a home behind hers, she testified. She said Oates and Ranier left after admiring her 1994 Mustang that was in the yard and Owens stayed at the home while she went to Milner to get barbecue for her father. Oates, whom Sumner knew from school, returned to the home about an hour and a half later and Sumner said she met him in the yard. ’I walked to the front yard. He said I needed to go with him to talk to investigators. I had a drink with me and he said I could take it,’ Sumner said. She also testified she asked Oates if she needed her ID and he answered affirmatively. She went to her porch where Owens handed her purse and she fished out the ID. Sumner said she had money in her pocket and her cell phone in her back pocket. She admitted she was not cuffed and that Oates did not question her during the ride to the station. After prompting by Head, she said she was not given the option of driving her own vehicle to the station. Under cross-examination by assistant district attorney James Moss, Sumner said Oates showed no animosity, was in uniform and driving a marked patrol car. She said she complied with Oates’ request voluntarily and that he was pleasant, never cuffed her and helped her into the back of his car. She also said she was never searched or patted down. She said Oates was pleasant on his first trip to her home as well and she voluntarily told him her Vue was at King’s home and gave him all the phone numbers she had for King. She also testified she voluntarily sat for the interview with Moltrum and Cooper and they were nice and did not intimidate her. She said she never asked to leave and did not know she was under arrest until the end of the interview. ’I didn’t know what to think at that point,’ Sumner added. Defense attorney Head began redirect and asked Sumner why she thought she might need her ID. ‘I figured they would hound me about the girl killed on Rose Avenue,’ she replied. Desir was killed early on a Saturday. Sumner said she first heard of the incident at work the following Monday. She was questioned and arrested on Tuesday. In another surprise, Head gave Sumner wide latitude in discussing her collision with a deer she said caused the damage to her Vue. She said she hit the deer on Hwy. 341 as she returned from WalMart in Griffin where she bought dog food. Under re-cross by assistant district attorney Moss, Sumner testified she told Owens, King, her father and a Tammy Hajte at work about striking the deer. Moss referred to a statement in which he said Sterling Sumner said he looked at the Vue and said, ‘I don’t see no deer hair’. ‘My Dad never said that. He couldn’t see well. He was dying of cancer,’ Sumner countered. Sterling Sumner died on Dec. 26, 2015. Moss read further from the statement, noting an officer told her father that Sumner ‘admitted to hitting the girl’ and he replied, ‘I was hoping she would.’ Sumner, visibly upset, replied, ‘He was doped up on morphine. I’m not gonna talk about my Dad.’ Judge Fears gently told Sumner she would have to answer the question. She replied, ‘My dad’s dead. I’m not gonna talk about him.’ At that Moss dropped the line of questioning. Head resumed the prodding. Sumner said Owens took her father in for questioning. She admitted her father did look at the Vue and took the lights out of it. Moss parried with additional questions. Sumner testified she and King had been separated for about a year when he and his cousin ‘˜Hunt’ towed her Vue. He asked about her collision with the deer. She said she hit it while southbound on Hwy. 341 just north of Five Points Road. ‘It ran into the passenger side. It was just a bump,’ she said, noting she did not stop, the deer ran off and she went home. She said the lights worked before the collision with the deer and that Sterling Sumner took them out to check for a shortage. She said the vehicle would crank but would cut off after a minute or two. The day started with testimony from Owens who had a manilla file folder in his hand which he used in an attempt to avoid being photographed. He said he lives at 606 Hwy. 18 West and is a self-employed truck driver. Moss probed the relationship between Owens and Sumner. He said they were family friends and answered ‘˜no’ when asked if they had a sexual relationship. Sumner, too, denied the relationship was intimate. Judge Fears asked Owens if he had been Sumner’s boyfriend at one time and he answered that he had. He said he did not know if it was before or after Desir was killed but it was while he was married to someone else. He is now divorced. At one point, a combative and exasperated Owens exclaimed, ‘I don’t even know why I am here.’ He said Sumner told him she hit a deer but he never looked at the vehicle. He said he was at her home when police arrived but did not talk to them. Owens also said he was interviewed by police on March 21, 2016 and said that was the first time he heard himself described as Sumner’s boyfriend. He said he heard about Desir’s death. Moss pressed him on whether he had talked with Sumner about the fatality. ‘She said ‘˜somebody got hit’. That’s it. I didn’t care about it,’ Owens testified, adding Sumner never told him she hit a person. Head put Capt. Moltrum on the stand who briefly testified about the actual dates of interviews with King and Owens and how they were recorded. Head then put King, 56, on the stand. He said he retired from driving trucks about a year ago and had a 22-year romantic relationship with Sumner that ended before Desir was killed. He said he now only sees Sumner ‘in the street’. He said Capt. David Knight and a state trooper came to his house looking for the Vue on July 2, 2013 and he voluntarily led them to it. He said Sumner said she hit a deer and asked him if he could fix it and he said maybe. He towed it because he was in between trips and did not have time to work on it right away. He said Sumner never told him she hit a human. He testified he did not know why he had been arrested and spent a week in jail. He answered ‘I don’t know’ when asked if his charges are still pending and that he was aware Moltrum was recording him during his statement to him on March 15, 2016. At the conclusion of the hearing, Moss argued testimony overwhelmingly supported his argument that Sumner was not under arrest when questioned on July 2, 2013. The judge agreed and denied the motion to suppress her statement but reserved the right to revisit it pending the analysis of the BPD backup hard drives by the expert in Boston. The matter could be back in court next month, depending on schedules and the status of the hard drive analysis.

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