A grieving community comes together to mourn girls’ deaths
REVERE — Edgar Mejia and Rosibel Rivera knelt on the grass where both their daughters were fatally injured, candles flickering before the parents in the freezing night. Around them, the voices of their loved ones rose into the air, quietly at first and then louder.
“Santa Maria, Madre de Dios . . .”
The dirt under their knees where they prayed Thursday night was still rutted with tire marks from the SUV that came careening off Route 145 on Sunday and into Rivera and her girls: 5-year-old Adrianna Mejia-Rivera and 2-month-old Natasha Nicole Mejia-Rivera. Adrianna died at the scene, and Natasha hung on at Massachusetts General Hospital until Wednesday night, when she died just after 9 p.m.
The prayers ended after a brief vigil Thursday evening. Mejia hugged a little boy to his chest and rocked back and forth. He had no more children.
The gathering followed several days of agony for the family, and came as new details emerged showing that nearly four years ago prosecutors had tried unsuccessfully to keep the driver in the fatal crash off the road because of a drunken driving case.
The driver, Autumn L. Harris, a 42-year-old union pipe-fitter from Boston, is being held on $10,000 bail on charges including motor vehicle homicide.
More charges are likely to come, but “our priority right now is supporting a family who lost the center of their world in the blink of an eye,” District Attorney John P. Pappas said in a statement.
Records show that 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 for her license, 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.”
Additionally, in February 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, according to the police report. She refused a breath test, the report said.
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.
Thursday night, dozens of people gathered in front of Revere City Hall night to pray for the family of the two girls who were killed.
“Tonight we come together to share our grief,” said Mayor Brian M. Arrigo. “We come with a willingness to carry some of their sorrowful burden.”
The family gave their thanks for the money raised in two GoFundMe campaigns, with which they are hoping to pay for their children’s burial in El Salvador, according to the campaigns. The crowd prayed and lit candles, passing the flames from person to person. The parents of the girls stayed hidden behind a wall of supporters and police. At the end, a young boy began to sing the song “Hallelujah.” But slowly, the trembling in his voice overtook him and there was only the sound of his sobbing.
From the vigil, the family walked to the site of the crash.
Earlier, Leslie Villalobos, a Lynn resident whose brother-in-law is the uncle of Adrianna and Natasha, said she learned Thursday morning that Natasha had been taken off life support.
“I was just heartbroken,” Villalobos said. “I know that they’re together [watching] over their parents. At least they’re not alone. I know they’re together.”
Harris was arraigned Monday in Chelsea District Court on charges of motor vehicle homicide and negligent operation. Authorities say she veered off the road and crashed her SUV into a group of five pedestrians, including the young sisters, as they stood on a sidewalk along the median strip of Route 145.
Villalobos said earlier in the week that the girls’ mother was on her way back from buying diapers when the vehicle crashed into them.
A not-guilty plea was entered on Harris’s behalf.
“In a recorded, post-Miranda statement, she allegedly stated that she had consumed one beer earlier on Sunday afternoon, that she had taken prescription and over-the-counter medication to help her sleep the night before, and that she had only slept two hours before working all day,” prosecutors said in a statement. “She allegedly stated the she had vaped CBD oil in the vehicle and that she might have nodded off at the wheel.”
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a minimally psychoactive compound that is not intoxicating.
Harris is due back in court on Jan. 10. Her lawyer declined to comment when reached by phone.