A Lexington woman pleaded guilty Friday to reduced charges stemming from a fiery crash in 2009 that killed one of her friends and injured another.
Meredith Lewis Browning, 22, pleaded guilty to reckless homicide in the death of passenger Cierra James, 22, and fourth-degree assault for causing serious injury to passenger Christina Lauren Fraley. The charges were reduced from second-degree manslaughter and second-degree assault as a result of a plea deal offered by the commonwealth's attorney's office.
Browning, who was 20 at the time of the crash, also pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol while at an age of less than 21. She had a blood alcohol level of 0.02 when her car ran off Old Richmond Road, according to court records. A level of 0.02 can bring a DUI conviction for someone under 21; Kentucky's legal limit for people 21 and older is 0.08.
When Judge Kimberly Bunnell asked Browning what she was guilty of, Browning admitted she had a glass of wine before driving and was driving too fast. The group of friends decided she should drive because "I had more gas in my car," she said.
Browning lost control of the 2001 Volvo S40 as it crested a hill on Old Richmond Road about 2 a.m. May 27, 2009.
The vehicle hit a telephone pole and two trees before landing in a ditch and bursting into flames, according to police. Browning pulled one passenger out of the car; the other passenger was thrown from the vehicle. James was pronounced dead at the scene, according to authorities.
Browning, in an interview at a hospital after the crash, told police she drank one glass of wine before the wreck and that she had been driving about 90 mph, according to court records.
Commonwealth's Attorney Lori Boling recommended Browning serve three years in jail on the reckless homicide charge and 12 months for the assault charge. Because fourth-degree assault is a misdemeanor, the 12-month sentence would run at the same time as the sentence for reckless homicide, which is a class D felony.
Browning will receive a fine and nine hours of alcohol education for the DUI charge, and she agreed to a five-year suspension of her driver's license. Boling said Browning also agreed to speak in schools, teaching students about her experience and the dangers of drinking and driving.
Browning will serve at least some of that time in jail; as a condition of the lesser charges, Browning will not ask the judge for probation in the case, attorneys said. However, the commonwealth's attorney's office and James' family did not object to shock probation — probation after spending a short time in jail or prison — being considered as an option.
About a dozen family members and friends of James hugged and spoke to one another outside the courtroom after the hearing. They indicated they did not wish to talk to reporters until after Browning was sentenced.
A sentencing hearing was scheduled for Aug. 26. Browning was allowed to remain free on bond until then.