Suspect in VanMall fatal hit-run crash pleads not guilty

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

Updated: February 7, 2014, 5:15 PM

 

While detectives searched for the mystery driver who killed two women in a Vancouver crosswalk, the main suspect denied to friends that he was involved, according to new court records obtained by The Columbian.

Brandon Smith, 27, pleaded not guilty Friday to charges related to the hit-and-run crash.

Smith is accused of driving the white pickup that struck and killed Raisa Mosh, 45, and Irina Gardinant, 28, about 8 p.m. Jan. 19 in a crosswalk at Northeast 72nd Avenue and Vancouver Mall Drive and then fleeing the scene without calling 911. Mosh’s 12-year-old son was injured and is still recovering.

Before he was taken into custody 10 days later, Smith, 27, allegedly told friends he wasn’t the man police were after.

“You are not the white Toyota they are looking for at mall hit and run last night?” a friend asked Smith via text message about 2 a.m. Jan. 20, according to court records.

“No, but I heard about it,” someone using Smith’s phone replied.

Meanwhile, Smith’s mother and live-in girlfriend told witnesses not to talk to police, court records say.

Smith, who has no criminal history, pleaded not guilty in Clark County Superior Court to two counts of vehicular homicide, three counts of felony hit-and-run, one count of vehicular assault and one count of tampering with physical evidence. He is in the Clark County Jail on $1 million bail. Judge David Gregerson tentatively scheduled his trial for March 24.

Smith’s mother, Linda Smith, 63, and live-in girlfriend, Kalista Andino, 21, who allegedly was riding in the pickup at the time of the crash, pleaded not guilty Friday to tampering with witnesses in the case. They have been released on bail. Their trials are scheduled for April 21.

Before the fatal crash, Smith was texting with friends about the NFC Championship game that afternoon between the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.

“Super excited” and “We are all GO HaWKS!!!!!” were among the text messages, according to court records.

After the 8 p.m. crash, Brandon Smith dropped Andino off at their home at Larkspur Place Apartments, 7609 N.E. Vancouver Mall Drive, told her to take care of their 5-month-old daughter and drove away, court records say.

Between 8:18 p.m. and just before midnight, Smith and Andino had 15 separate phone conversations, court records show.

Change in tone

After the crash, “text message conversations are void of the previous joy related to the Seahawks,” wrote Vancouver police Detective Darren McShea in a search warrant affidavit.

The case was cracked when investigators served a search warrant at Brandon Smith’s residence.

During the search, they seized Smith’s white 2007 Toyota Tacoma pickup, which showed front-end damage, as well as his cellphone and laptop. On Smith’s laptop, police found he had placed an order for collision repair parts, which were apparent replacements for the parts found or damaged at the crash scene, according to court records. The order included Toyota grille assembly parts and headlights.

Before the crash, Andino told a neighbor that Brandon Smith is an alcoholic who “frequently drives under the influence,” court records say.

However, investigators so far have presented no evidence that Smith was intoxicated at the time of the crash.

Brandon Smith arraignment