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Driver in Hampton crash told police she took her eyes off the road 'for a few seconds'
The affidavit was released Wednesday morning as Darriean Hess, 19, made her first court appearance via video in the 10th Circuit Court, Seabrook District Division, after her arrest Tuesday on two counts each of negligent homicide and second-degree assault.
Judge Mark Weaver set bail at $50,000 cash or corporate surety, meaning she will remain at the Rockingham County jail unless she can make bail.
From jail, Hess sat quietly next to her public defender at her arraignment and was unable to enter pleas as the charges are all felonies.
Outside the courthouse, family members of Hess said she was devastated by the accident.
"Our entire family is completely traumatized and we mourn for the people that were lost in this tragedy. We also pray for the ones that were injured," her brother, Magnus Hess, told reporters.
The deadly accident on Route 1A happened Saturday morning while bicyclists participating in the Granite State Wheelmen Seacoast Century Ride were passing through the area of the Underwood Bridge near the Seabrook town line.
Authorities say Hess was driving a friend's car southbound on Route 1A at a high rate of speed when she suddenly drifted over the double yellow line and crashed into the bicyclists.
Pamela Wells, 60, of South Hamilton, Mass., and Elise Bouchard, 52, of Danvers, Mass., were killed, and two other bicyclists, Uwe Uhmeyer, 60, of Essex, Mass., and Margo Heigh, 54, of Danvers, Mass., were injured.
Nearly eight hours before the crash, Hampton police stopped Hess in the same area after they say she was caught traveling 59 mph in a zone posted at 30 mph. During the traffic stop, police discovered that Hess had no driver's license. She was issued summonses and released to a friend who picked her up.
The accident was witnessed by David Kelley, a retired major with the state police, according to the police affidavit.
Kelley told police that he was approaching the bridge heading northbound on Route 1A and saw a Honda Civic crest the top of the bridge "at a speed that he believed was unreasonable for the conditions of the road," the affidavit said.
He then saw Hess cross the double-yellow centerline of the bridge as she was heading southbound. Kelley told police that the group of bicyclists were riding in a single file line on the far right side of the northbound lane when the car hit them.
"Mr. Kelley stated that he observed multiple bicyclists tossed from their bicycles as a result of the collision," the affidavit said.
The car then continued traveling in the northbound lane and then crossed back into the southbound lane before crashing into roadway delineators in the breakdown lane and coming to rest on top of a damaged sign at the Seabrook line, Kelley told police.
"Mr. Kelley stated that he observed the female operator of the vehicle and observed her with her eyes open and her head up," the affidavit said.
According to his statement to police, Hess told Kelley that she had "taken her eyes off of the road for a few seconds."
Police said the visibility was clear on the day of the accident and that "it would have been reasonable for a driver to have seen the bicyclists approaching northbound from a distance of several hundred feet."
At her arraignment, Hampton police prosecutor Barry Newcomb asked the judge to set bail at $50,000 cash only, saying he considered Hess a flight risk and a threat to public safety. While most of her family lives in the area, he said she has some family members in Alaska.
Public defender Tony Naro fought the higher cash bail, arguing for bail of $15,000 cash or corporate surety. He also asked that she be placed under house arrest if released.
Naro said Hess, who is engaged, isn't a flight risk and couldn't afford to leave the state.
He added, "This is beyond tragic for all parties involved."
Family and friends of Hess and the victims sat on opposite sides of the courtroom.
After the arraignment, Gordon Wiley, whose wife, Pam, was a good friend of Bouchard's and used to bike with her, said he was pleased that bail would remain high.
He said he attended the arraignment because he "wanted to make sure that she didn't get out."
"She should stay where she needs to be for now," he said.
He described Bouchard as someone with whom people easily connected and who always had a big smile.
Whenever they saw Bouchard, Wiley said she would "give you a hug and tell you she loved you. She was just an unbelievable person to lose."
Hess's sister, Cassandra Clifton, said her family is "not doing well at all"? and insisted that her sister wouldn't flee if released.
"She just wants to be with her family, that's all, and we don't know if that's going to happen because the bail is at $50,000," she said.
Hess is due back in court for a probable cause hearing on Oct. 8.
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