NORRISTOWN >> Appearing to wipe tears from his eyes at times, one of two men accused of causing a crash with multiple fatalities during a high-speed street race on Route 422 in West Pottsgrove admitted to his role in the crime.
Evaughn-Sha Antonio Walters, 21, of Washington, D.C., was soft-spoken as he pleaded guilty in Montgomery County Court on Thursday to two felony counts of homicide by vehicle in connection with the 12:02 a.m. Feb. 4, 2017, crash on eastbound Route 422 in West Pottsgrove that left two people, including a pregnant woman, dead.
A person commits homicide by vehicle when they recklessly or with gross negligence cause the death of another person while violating traffic laws. Prosecutors alleged Walters’ violations included racing on highways, speeding and careless and reckless driving.
“It’s a fairly high standard. If the speeds are high enough, that can constitute gross negligence…and here we have speeds of at least 121 mph in a 40 mph work zone, which is pretty extreme,” explained county Deputy District Attorney Thomas W. McGoldrick.
Judge Todd D. Eisenberg deferred sentencing so that court officials can complete a background investigative report about Walters.
Walters faces a possible maximum sentence of seven to 14 years in prison on the charges. However, state sentencing guidelines could allow for a lesser sentence.
“The commonwealth will be seeking jail time in this case. Obviously, the length of jail time will be up to Judge Eisenberg,” said McGoldrick, who is assisted by co-prosecutor Samantha Thompson.
Killed in the drag race crash were Anthony Rodriguez, 23, of East Elmhurst, N.Y., and Marissa Christina Kelly, 20 of Stroudsburg, Monroe County, who were passengers in the second car operated by Shone G. Santiago. Kelly also was pregnant, authorities said. Kelly’s relatives were in court to witness Walters’ admission and wept during the brief hearing.
Santiago, 22, of New York, N.Y., faces two counts of third-degree murder, one count each of third-degree murder of an unborn child and conspiracy to commit third-degree murder and a charge of driving under the influence of marijuana in connection with the incident. Santiago, who is being held without bail pending trial, previously filed court papers hinting at a potential guilty plea to some of the charges during a “non-trial disposition” hearing later this year.
Both men had been scheduled for a trial on Oct. 16.
“I think anyone in this situation feels terrible. It’s obviously a very sad case. I think my client, he’s had a lot of time to think on this and he feels just awful,” defense lawyer Ryan L. Hyde said on Walters’ behalf.
Investigators determined Walters and Santiago knew each other by attending UTI technical school in Exton.
The investigation began when West Pottsgrove police responded to the eastbound lanes of Route 422 near the Stowe exit for a report of a one-vehicle crash involving a white 2007 BMW that left the roadway, crashed through a guard rail and careened 200 feet down an embankment and into a ravine. Santiago, the driver, and passengers Rodriguez and Kelly were trapped inside the overturned vehicle, according to the criminal complaint filed by county Detective David Schanes.
Rodriguez, the front right seat passenger, and Kelly, the rear left seat passenger, were declared dead at the scene. Santiago was transported by medical helicopter to Reading Hospital Trauma Center in West Reading with multiple injuries.
An autopsy determined Rodriguez and Kelly suffered blunt force head injuries. Doctors also determined Kelly was 15 weeks pregnant.
Detectives alleged Santiago’s car was traveling at a minimum speed of 121 mph just before the crash.
The crash occurred near a construction area and the posted speed limit is 40 mph and the area is marked by construction zone warning signs, authorities said.
Investigators determined Walters, driving a 2007 Toyota Camry, called 911 and told dispatchers he witnessed a car “run off the road.”
In his initial statement to detectives Walters claimed that Santiago and he were traveling at a slow speed at the eastbound entrance to the Route 422 bypass in Douglassville, Berks County, when a black Dodge Challenger with a Delaware license plate pulled up beside Santiago and then both cars “took off just flying.” Walters claimed he eventually came upon the damaged guard rail, stopped his car and saw Santiago’s car in the ravine upside down.
Walters initially claimed the black Dodge Challenger also stopped at the scene but then fled.
Based on Walters’ descriptions authorities initially searched for a black Dodge Challenger having a Delaware license plate.
However, detectives downloaded a video from Walters’ cellphone depicting an earlier race in the southbound lanes of Route 100 near Shoemaker Road and determined the cars involved where operated by Santiago and Walters, who was filming the race as he drove. The video recorded the speedometer of Walters’ vehicle at 137 mph during the earlier race, according to testimony.
During a subsequent March 1 interview Walters then admitted to racing Santiago on Route 100 and later on Route 422 and to lying about a black Dodge being part of the Route 422 race, according to the arrest affidavit.
“Walters stated that Santiago asked him if he wanted to do another pull, meaning race. Walters replied, ‘not really.’ Walters said that they ended up racing anyway,” Schanes wrote in the arrest affidavit.
Walters, who admitted to traveling between 80- and 100-mph during the race, claimed he was behind Santiago’s car when he observed Santiago lose control of his car on a curve, crash through the guard rail and careen into the ravine.