I-Team Exclusive: Escaping Justice?
By Charlotte Huffman
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Police say a driver who was high on drugs hit and killed a beloved wife and mother.
Recent news that she may never go to jail has shocked the victim’s family.
The driver, Shannon Sidorek didn’t want to talk to CBS3 about the day two years ago that ended in a fatal two car crash.
“Please no comment, nope guys, I don’t even know what you’re doing here, no comment.”
“It was one of those things where you know something’s going to happen but you hope it doesn’t,” said Robert Emerson who witnessed the February 28, 2012 accident.
Emerson was traveling behind Sidorek on the Pemberton Bypass in Burlington County, New Jersey.
He says she swerved in and out of her lane for miles, narrowly missing oncoming cars.
“I actually honked my horn and she did try to dip back into the lane she was on but it was really too late,” said Emerson.
Police say Sidorek crossed the center line and slammed head on into Betsy Smith’s car.
The 81-year-old Moorestown woman died on the scene.
“Three policemen came to the door and they were just so kind,” recalled the victim’s husband, Steve Smith Sr. “They had me sit down and told me.”
He and Betsy had been married for more than 58 years.
“Almost 59 years, we were looking for 60 because my parents celebrated their 60th anniversary,” said Smith Sr. “We were looking for our 60th.”
A long marriage described as a match made in heaven.
“You got to believe it,” said an emotional Smith Sr.
Betsy had been visiting her horse that morning and was heading home.
Sidorek had been using drugs.
Blood tests show Sidorek was high on prescription pain killers.
She’s a driver with a terrible record of eight license suspensions and multiple violations for speeding and careless driving.
Sidorek was charged with vehicular homicide and possession of drugs in the February crash and was facing years behind bars.
However, the trial did not get far.
In January, Judge Terrence R. Cook shocked the Smith family when he threw out any evidence of drug use, essentially killing the prosecution’s case.
“What did he say,” asked Smith’s son, Steve Smith Jr. who couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
The judge ruled that the officer investigating the crash violated Sidorek’s constitutional rights.
Since Sidorek was in and out of consciousness, the officer looked in her purse for identification and saw the pill bottles.
But the judge says the officer needed a search warrant to do that.
“You know here, it didn’t get the right result for the victim and the victim’s family but it did get the right result under the Constitution and the 4th Amendment,” said Rutgers Law School Professor J.C. Lore.
However, Lynne Abraham, a former Philadelphia District Attorney and judge disagrees.
“I think the judge, no disrespect intended, got it wrong,” said Abraham.
She says a warrant was not needed because at the time the officer was investigating an accident and not a crime.
“This was not an illegal search,” said Abraham. “I understand the frustration of the victim’s family.”
“They don’t think justice was served in this case and I happen to agree with them,” she continued.
Sidorek had no comment when asked why she was high on drugs and driving.
In a faltering voice Betsy’s son Robert said this about Sidorek, “I don’t know that she actually realizes the number of lives that she’s affected.”
For Sidorek life goes on.
But for the Smiths, life will never be the same.
Steve Smith Sr. recently brought flowers to his wife’s gravesite on a day that would have been a celebration.
“They’re daffodils from my wife’s garden,” he said.
It was Betsy’s 84th birthday.
The Burlington County prosecutor has appealed the judge’s decision saying the officer acted appropriately.
If the New Jersey Appellate Division upholds the judge’s decision to suppress evidence then the vehicular homicide and drug charges against Sidorek will likely be dismissed.
Judge Cook and Sidorek’s attorney, Burlington County Public Defender, both declined an on-camera interview because the appeal process is on-going.
Burlington County Prosecutor Robert D. Bernardi also declined an interview but sent CBS3 a statement about Judge Cook’s decision.
“This defendant needs to be held accountable for her actions on the night of Feb. 28, 2012. Accordingly, I have authorized my staff to file an appeal based upon what we believe is an erroneous interpretation of existing precedent.”