Woman who crashed into building, killing birthday boy and his sister, arraigned on murder charges

A Michigan woman was charged Tuesday with manslaughter and other charges after prosecutors said she drunkenly crashed her SUV into a boat club where a child’s birthday party was taking place, killing the 4-year-old and his 8-year-old. sister and injured several other people.

Marshella Chidester, 66, has entered no plea to the eight charges she faces in Saturday’s tragic crash at the Swan Boat Club in Monroe County, about 30 miles south of Detroit.

During a court hearing that was broadcast live, Chidester’s right arm was in a cast from just above the elbow to her fingers.

She has been in jail since the crash, and the judge set her bond at the $1.5 million prosecutors sought after relatives of some of the victims asked him to set it at that level.

In arguing for the $1.5 million bail, prosecutor Jeff Yorkey told the court that Chidester had substance abuse problems that were confirmed by her friends and family.

Attorney Bill Colovos asked the judge to set Chidester’s bond at $100,000. He said she had only had a glass of wine and a bowl of chili four hours before the crash, and had been suffering from “seizures in her legs” since November.

“This is not a monster,” Colovos said. “It’s terrible what happened, but there are some things we have no control over.”

Colovos added that Chidester had no traffic tickets or police record prior to Saturday’s crash.

Yorkey responded that there was no evidence Chidester had suffered a seizure before the crash and that tests showed her blood alcohol level was “significantly above the legal limit.”

If Chidester posts bail, she will have to lose her passport, not drink alcohol, wear a chain and not drive. A probable cause conference is scheduled for April 30, followed by a preliminary investigation on May 6.

Chidester is a former commodore at the boat club, The Detroit News reported.

The crash killed 8-year-old Alanah Phillips and her 4-year-old brother Zayn Phillips, the sheriff’s office said. Their mother and another sibling were among the injured.

Raquel Smothers told the court she was at the party and witnessed the deaths of her niece and nephew.

“They were sitting at that table eating, and this woman drove her car through this building and destroyed all our lives,” said an almost inconsolable Smothers. “No one should ever go to a birthday party thinking they are going to die.”

The mother of the dead children, Mariah Dodds, is suing Chidester and the inn she allegedly was at before the crash, according to a Detroit law firm representing Dodds.

Dodds suffered broken ribs, a collapsed lung, cuts and bruises, the law firm said. Her surviving son suffered broken legs, broken ribs and a fractured skull.

The boat club located on Swan Creek near Lake Erie is a membership-based organization that hosts holiday parties and other events and provides docking space for members who own boats, according to its website. The club also advertises on social media that members can rent the clubhouse or pavilion for personal events, including birthday parties.


Associated Press researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed.