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Sumner hit and run hearing suspended as search for dash video gets underway

By Walter Geiger A hearing on motions to suppress evidence in the case of Bobbie Jo Sumner was suspended by Judge Bill Fears March 17 to give both the prosecution and defense time to search for missing dash camera video deemed critical to the case. Sumner is scheduled to go to trial April 26 on counts of first degree vehicular homicide and hit and run as well as multiple counts of making false statements. She is charged in connection with the June 29, 2013 death of Alexandra Noelle Desir. Desir was on her way to work at Huddle House from a GSC dorm just before midnight when she was struck and killed while walking along Rose Avenue in Barnesville. Defense attorney Bubba Head is contesting officer Freddie Oates’ account of the first questioning of Sumner on July 2, 2013. On the stand, Oates said he went to Sumner’s Rogers Circle residence twice that day. On the first, he asked her if she owned a Saturn Vue, the make of car identified from debris left at the fatality scene. She said she did but had hit a deer the night before the hit and run and had her Vue towed because a switch had locked up. Officer Michael Rainer was at the home with Oates in another patrol car. That information was passed on to investigators. Later that day, Sumner’s Vue, with damage to the front end, was found at the home of Robert King on Old Atlanta Road in Spalding County by Capt. David Knight Knight of the LCSO. King was referred to as both Sumner’s ex-husband and ex-boyfriend at last week’s hearing. After the Vue was found, Oates was sent back to Sumner’s home to ask her to come in for questioning. He testified Sumner talked with him briefly, turned around and emptied her pockets, giving the contents to a male at the scene who in later testimony was identified as Karry Owens, another boyfriend. Oates testified Sumner, whom he knew from school, was never cuffed, never arrested and left in an open area near the doors to the police department and could have left at anytime. Assistant district attorney James Moss argued the statements Sumner gave were voluntary and a transcript showed where she had been read her Miranda rights and initialed a waiver form. Head said Sumner told him she was taken into custody on the second trip by Oates to her home, told to empty her pockets and bring her ID. Oates testified his dash cam and the camera in Rainer’s vehicle should have recorded the first visit and his camera should have captured the second. Oates said he tried to find the video in the days before the hearing to refresh his memory but could not find it. Neither the defense, prosecution nor any investigators involved had ever sought the video before, Oates said. ‘I don’t know who dropped the ball on the video,’ Oates testified. BPD assistant chief Craig Cooper and investigator Al Moltrum both testified that the video was backed up to a RAID (redundant array of independent disks). Two of the RAID’s six, twoterabyte disks failed and it crashed. Months of videos, including those critical in this dispute, were lost. Cooper testified the RAID was still at headquarters but the company that provided it wanted $7000 to determine if any data could be recovered. Actual recovery could take months and great expense. Head said if he could get one of the surviving disks to an expert, the video may be recoverable. Though he called the video search ‘like looking for a needle in a haystack’, Judge Fears agreed to suspend the hearing while Moss got input from the GBI about recovering the video. ‘I don’t have a blank check,’ the judge admonished. Moss warned that backlogs at the GBI could add months to the already now nearly three-year old prosecution of Sumner. Judge Fears set a preliminary status hearing on the video search for April 7. Other interesting tidbits of information were gleaned from testimony at the hearing. Captain David Knight said his first visit to the King home did not reveal the Vue which was registered at King’s address. Once Sumner told officers King had towed the car, Knight went back to the home and King led him to the car which was in a garage. Knight saw front end damage and a powdery red substance on the windshield and called for the scene to be secured. Moltrum testified Sumner raised ‘˜red flags’ and became a ‘˜person of interest’ in that she owned a Saturn Vue and gave conflicting statements. Senior trooper Mark Wynn of the GSP SCRT team said he arrived at King’s garage, looked at the damage and called for a GBI crime scene technician. He also had King arrested and later questioned him at the Spalding sheriff’s office. King first told him he picked the car up on Five Points Road in Lamar County with a cousin’s rollback because Sumner had hit a deer. Pressed for the truth, King later admitted Sumner had asked him to pick up the car from her Rogers Circle residence and had asked him to bring a tarp to cover up the front end damage while it was being transported. Wynn said the Vue’s onboard data recorder reported it was cranked 10 times after the recorded collision. At impact, the car was moving at 39-40 mph and the driver’s seatbelt was not fastened. No air bags were deployed. Perhaps most helpful to the defense was the section of Wynn’s report on ‘˜victim contributing factors’. It noted Desir was walking with her back to traffic in a traffic lane about seven feet from the Rose Avenue sidewalk when she was struck. Just minutes before she was hit and killed, Desir was stopped and warned by a BPD officer who saw her walking in the traffic lane with her back to traffic and talking on a cell phone. Desir apparently did not heed that warning and paid for it with her life.

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