His head hung low, Brandon Smith shuffled into Clark County Superior Court on Thursday to face accusations that he was the driver of a pickup that hit and killed two Vancouver women in a crosswalk, then fled the scene and never called police. While detectives searched for the mystery driver, court documents say he apparently ordered parts to repair the front end of his damaged pickup.
The 27-year-old man, who has no criminal history, wore orange jail clothes — the color designated for felonies — and ankle and wrist shackles for his first court appearance. Judge Barbara Johnson held Smith on $1 million bail.
He is scheduled to be arraigned Feb. 7 on charges of 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.
Raisa Mosh, 45, and Irina Gardinant, 28, were killed about 8 p.m. Jan. 19 when a white pickup struck them in a crosswalk at Northeast 72nd Avenue and Vancouver Mall Drive. Mosh’s 12-year-old son was injured and remains in a wheelchair, said Senior Deputy Prosecutor Kasey Vu. Mosh is survived by her husband and four children; Gardinant, by her husband and a 2-year-old child.
“Mr. Smith made no attempt to stop, made no attempt to call 911, made no attempt whatsoever to seek aid for the victims,” Vu said. “Not only did he not do his duties as a driver … he made an effort to hide and conceal evidence.”
Smith’s attorney, Jon McMullen, countered that his client has cooperated with police. The Vancouver defense attorney said he plans to request a lesser bail for Smith at his arraignment. Smith hired McMullen after being identified as a suspect.
“If one is exercising one’s constitutional rights and one has an attorney and is availing oneself to law enforcement, then I think one is cooperating,” McMullen said.
Victims’ families in court
During Thursday’s hearing, at least nine members of the victims’ families sat in the courtroom’s public gallery, flanked by Vancouver police officers. The officers escorted the families in and out of the courtroom to shield them from the heavy media presence, which included at least four TV stations, said Vancouver police Detective John Ringo.
“Though we are finding our strength and comfort in God, we are overwhelmed by the kindness and support of those in our community,” the victims’ families said later in a statement. “We would like to express our deepest gratitude to the Vancouver Police Department who have worked tirelessly on the case since the tragedy that took away Raisa and Irina. Our families would like to also thank those who have helped the investigation by calling the tip line and are asking those who may be hesitant to reach out with information. Again, we thank you for your support and prayers.”
The case was cracked when investigators served a search warrant last week at Larkspur Place Apartments, 7609 N.E. Vancouver Mall Drive. Smith lived at the apartment complex with his girlfriend, Kalista Andino, 21.
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 vehicle parts, which were apparent replacements for the parts found or damaged at the crash scene, according to a court affidavit. The order included Toyota grille assembly parts and headlights.
Before the fatal crash, Andino told a neighbor that Smith is an alcoholic who “frequently drives under the influence,” according to a search warrant affidavit.
However, investigators so far have presented no evidence that Smith was intoxicated at the time of the crash.
Smith was not arrested until 5 p.m. Wednesday, when he turned himself in at the request of police.
“I wouldn’t characterize it as a delay, even though it seemed like the whole world was waiting for him to be arrested,” said Detective Troy Price. “We were making sure we have everything we need for a solid case … We don’t want to move in haste and miss something.”
Price said some of Smith’s family and friends hindered the investigation by lying to investigators and telling witnesses not to talk to police.
Smith was named as the alleged driver in the crash on Monday, when his girlfriend, Andino, and 63-year-old mother, Linda Smith, appeared in court to face charges of witness tampering.
Both Andino and Linda Smith posted bail and were released from jail earlier this week.
With the suspected driver now jailed, Price said detectives plan to focus on rooting out and arresting others who may have obstructed their investigation.
“We’ll ask: Where were all the snags in this thing? Did anybody commit any crimes in delaying us or misdirecting us?” Price said. “The big picture is (those people) are wasting taxpayers’ money, sending police off operating on false information.”