WASHINGTON – A woman who injured nearly 50 people when she plowed her car through a street festival while high on crack cocaine was sentenced to 25 years in prison Tuesday.
Tonya Bell apologized to the victims, many of whom testified how their broken bones, scars and psychological wounds from the June 2 incident have had a profound impact on their lives, limiting their ability to work or pursue their life passions.
"I'm so sorry for the pain I caused," said Bell, who quivered at the defense table and wept often during the half-hour hearing. "It haunts me."
She told the victims she asks God to "bless you back to health."
Bell, 30, of Oxon Hill, Md., pleaded guilty in October to multiple counts of aggravated assault while armed and assault with a dangerous weapon, along with a charge of cruelty to children. District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Herbert Dixon gave Bell the maximum sentence allowed under the plea agreement she reached with prosecutors.
According to prosecutors, Bell had gone on a crack binge in the 24 hours before the street festival, consuming $700 worth of the drug. She then placed her 7-year-old daughter in the back seat of her station wagon and headed toward Unifest, a church-sponsored street festival in southeast Washington.
At speeds of up to 70 mph, Bell made two passes through the area, knocking people to the side and under the car. A police officer who tried to pull her over said she was laughing as she drove. Her station wagon was finally stopped when officers crashed their scooters under the vehicle and a man jumped through the window to put the transmission in park.
No one was killed, but 49 people were injured, including to police.
Some of the injured described in court how they dragged for several blocks under the car or thrown into the air by the impact. Most said they felt sorry for Bell.
Antwan Williams, 49, has had four operated on an injured leg and still suffers migraines and flashbacks.
"I'd just like to ask her why she didn't stop when she hit the first person," Williams told the judge.
Bell's attorney said she had lived a tortured life, with abusive and absent parents. After eight criminal convictions, Bell appeared to have righted her life somewhat in 2004 when she was in a drug treatment program. However, she later became involved in an abusive relationship, which precipitated a drug relapse.
Bell said she had attended Unifest as a child.
"I am horrified I ruined such a blessed event," she said.