Sun Sentinel Broward Edition
5 killed when car hit them, jury told
Jean Cherilan twice pounded his right fist into his left hand in a Palm Beach County courtroom, as he described his memory of watching and hearing a two-car crash just ahead of him on Blue Heron Boulevard.
“I see the crash, bam!” the Lake Park man testified Monday. He was the first witness in the trial of Jabari Shahid Kemp, 23, of Florida City.
Assistant State Attorney Laura Laurie told the jury Kemp caused the 12:20 a.m. April 13, 2013 crash and must be held criminally responsible for the deaths of five young people from Riviera Beach.
“Jabari Kemp drove recklessly, took the lives of five individuals and he’s guilty of vehicular homicide,” Laurie said in her opening statement.
Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes granted defense attorney Leonard Feuer’s request to reserve the chance to offer opening remarks later in the trial.
Kemp originally also faced five counts of DUI manslaughter in the case. But the State Attorney’s Office dropped those charges in September because of questions concerning the validity of blood samples that reportedly showed high levels of THC, the
main chemical ingredient found in marijuana.
In a trial last year, Kemp was found not guilty of a misdemeanor marijuana charge concerning a separate traffic stop before the crash. Prosecutors still pressed ahead with five vehicular homicide charges, punishable by a maximum sentence of 75 years in prison.
Kemp was speeding in his 2008 Mercedes CLK350 at120 mph to128 mph when he ran a red light after exiting Interstate 95 north-bound at Blue Heron Boule-
vard, Laurie said. The Mercedes “T-boned” 1994 Lexus ES330 driven by Jason Mahlung, 21. The Lexus had a green light and was heading eastbound on Blue Heron. At that moment, Kemp forever changed the destiny of Mahlung and his four friends, the prosecutor said.
Killed in the crash were the driver and his passengers: Makita Campbell, 14; Shonteria Grimsley and Christina Oliver-Joseph, both 17; and Orane Cummings, 22.
Friends and family members of the victims filled several rows of benches in the courtroom Monday as Cherilan testified that he and his wife, Kem, were on the road after finishing a late-night dinner at Den-ny's.
He recalled the Lexus passing him and a few seconds later, there was the loud boom of the crash. The couple pulled over by the crash scene.
“I saw bodies everywhere,” Cherilan said as Kemp listened, occasionally looking down at his Bible on the defense table.
All the occupants of the Lexus, except for Cummings, the front passenger, were ejected, according to a Florida Highway Patrol report. The Lexus was flipped onto its roof.
Kemp was taken to St. Mary’s Medical Center with injuries that were not lifethreatening. He has been on house arrest awaiting trial.
Riviera Beach Police Officer Brian DeSantis testified Monday he was on patrol duty at a nearby gas station when he heard screeching tires and the impact a second or two later. The tire noises sounded like a car braking, he said.
The officer said he immediately drove to the scene and found a large debris field with clothing, vehicle parts, glass, bodies and severed limbs. Later in the day, the jury viewed photographs of the crash site and the mangled vehicles.
Prosecutors Laurie and Judy Arco said investigators did not find any evidence Kemp’s Mercedes or the victims’ Lexus had malfunctioned before the crash.
In a pleading in the case filed June 3, Arco wrote she expects Kemp will testify that he “lost consciousness while driving at some point which either caused or contributed to his excessive speed or caused him to run the red light at the intersection.”
Before the trial, the judge barred the defense from bringing in Kemp’s medical records from brain examinations over the past year; Kemp apparently was tested for tumors, lesions and stroke conditions.
The prosecutors said those reports, including CT scan and MRI results, are irrelevant because the exams happened more than a year after the crash. They say Kemp was awake when he plowed his Mercedes into the victims’ Lexus.
Kemp’s jury also will not learn he was stopped for speeding about 4 1⁄ hours
2 before the crash.
A Palm Beach County Sheriff ’s investigator had pulled over Kemp at 8 p.m. April 12 after the deputy said he saw Kemp driving 91 mph in a 65 mph zone on southbound Interstate 95 south of 45th Street.
The investigator reported that upon walking up to Kemp’s car, he smelled a “very strong odor of marijuana” and asked Kemp to step outside.
After patting down Kemp, the deputy placed him inside the patrol car and searched the Mercedes. After finding nothing and hearing Kemp deny he had smoked pot, the deputy let Kemp go after signing a citation, court records show.
The trial will resume Tuesday, with Florida Highway Patrol Corporal Robert Dooley expected to continue testifying about his investigation of the crash.
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