Nearly four years before she allegedly plowed into a group of pedestrians in Revere on Sunday, killing an infant and a 5-year-old, prosecutors tried unsuccessfully to keep Autumn L. Harris off the road following her acquittal in an earlier drunken driving case, records show.
Harris, 42, is currently being held on $10,000 bail on charges including motor vehicle homicide stemming from the crash Sunday that claimed the lives of 5-year-old Adrianna Mejia-Rivera and the girl’s 2-month-old sister, Natasha Nicole Mejia-Rivera.
Prosecutors say Harris, a union pipe fitter, admitted to taking a sleep aid and muscle relaxant Saturday night, working all day Sunday, and having a beer in the afternoon and vaping CBD oil in her vehicle before the SUV veered off the road and crashed into the children.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a minimally psychoactive compound that is not intoxicating.
In April 2015, Middlesex County prosecutors tried to block Harris from getting her license back after her acquittal in a drunken driving case in Somerville District Court.
In a filing opposing Harris’s request, Assistant Middlesex District Attorney Mary F.P. O’Neill wrote that despite the acquittal, “there was substantial evidence that she had consumed alcohol before driving on Feb. 21, 2014, and there was testimony to establish that she posed a danger to the public by a fair preponderance of the evidence, the standard review relative to this motion.”
O’Neill said Harris had previously admitted to sufficient facts for a finding of guilt in an earlier drunken driving case and also “refused a [breath] test in Ipswich” during an earlier incident.
But Judge Maurice R. Flynn sided with Harris, whose lawyer at the time described her as “a hard-working lady, who needs her license for employment purposes and who poses no threat to the Commonwealth.”
Flynn declined to comment Thursday through a spokeswoman for the state court system. State law allows a judge to reinstate a suspended license after a not-guilty finding in an OUI case. The law calls for a “rebuttable presumption that said license be restored, unless the commonwealth shall establish, by a fair preponderance of the evidence, that restoration of said license would likely endanger the public safety.”
Leslie Villalobos, a Lynn resident whose brother-in-law is the uncle of Adrianna and Natasha, said Thursday that she was distressed to learn of Harris’s prior record.
“That’s awful, that she has a record and she shouldn’t be on the road in the first place,” Villalobos said. “If she never got her license back, maybe this never would have happened to our poor little angels.”
A Medford police report from the February 2014 incident that led to Harris’s prior arrest, and eventual acquittal in the Somerville courthouse, said she rear-ended another driver who was stopped at a red light on Route 16.
A police officer had to open the door to the car Harris was driving, and she became belligerent when she exited the vehicle, the report said. She told the officer that a vehicle traveling next to her was swerving from lane to lane before the crash, and that she “hit the car in front of me because it was stopped,” the report said.
Her eyes were glassy and bloodshot and she was unsteady on her feet, plus an odor of alcohol was emanating from her breath, the officer said.
Harris began swearing at the other driver, telling him he didn’t know how to drive, and she admitted to drinking before the crash, according to the report.
“[Y]es, I had a few beers but what does that have to do with him not knowing how to drive?” the report quoted her as saying. She failed one field sobriety test repeatedly and lashed out when the officer said he planned to administer more tests.
“[N]o, this is stupid,” she said, according to the report. “[H]e doesn’t know how to drive and I’m being tested.”
Her combative demeanor during that incident was a marked contrast to her arraignment Monday in Chelsea District Court for her alleged role in the fatal crash in Revere.
Harris cried throughout the brief hearing, and she was ordered held on $10,000 bail. Her mother, Maureen, also cried outside the courthouse when she told reporters she felt badly for the children and feared her daughter could be suicidal in the aftermath of the deadly crash.
Harris’s driving record provided by the RMV shows that she refused chemical breath tests in 2011 and also in the 2014 Medford case.
In February of 2011, Harris allegedly crashed her car into a snowbank in Ipswich, then failed the sobriety tests police gave her. She had bloodshot, glassy eyes, reeked of alcohol, swayed on her feet, and repeated the same information over and over again, according to the police report, though she refused a breathalyzer.
When Ipswich police arrested and booked her, they asked if she knew where she was. “Yeah Malden Ma 02148,” she replied. When they told her she was in Ipswich, she swore, according to the report.
Harris admitted to sufficient facts, and the case was continued without a finding.
In addition, she had prior run-ins with the law in Malden as well.
She pleaded guilty to 2007 charges of disturbing the peace and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, and to a 2008 charge of malicious destruction of property, records show. All of those matters were continued without a finding, according to legal filings.
Her lawyer in the current Revere case didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on her prior record.Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.