A Travis County jury chose probation over prison time last week for 25-year-old Gabrielle Nestande, who fatally struck Courtney Griffin with her BMW in May 2011 after drinking with friends on Rainey Street.
Following six days of testimony, the jury--made up of six men and three women--took 21 hours to find the former legislative aide guilty of criminally negligent homicide, and not guilty for failure to stop and render aid.
Shortly after the verdict came down Friday, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said the traffic code needs to be tougher on auto-pedestrian accidents.
"We don't want to have a permissive community or society where people think it is OK to kill somebody, run them over and not render aid,” Acevedo said.
Trial testimony and surveillance footage showed Nestande was drinking before the fatal accident. The defendant said on the stand she was “by no means” intoxicated.
Nestande also testified she had no idea she hit a human, and instead thought a rock hit her windshield, later saying she hit a deer.
“Although we absolutely respect the process, because you have to, doesn't mean you can't be disappointed as a human being when a life is taken and there are no consequences," Acevedo said. "It sends the wrong message."
Attorney Len Gabbay said when motorists leave the scene of an accident, proving the facts of a case can be tough.
"Crucial evidence, blood alcohol, levels of intoxication--that evidence is lost," he said.
Despite what some would say is a controversial verdict, expect the Austin Police Department to work with lawmakers to toughen penalties on hit-and-run accidents.
"We need to make it real tough if you don't stop and render aid, you're going to pay a real hefty price for that failure," Acevedo said.
State Sen. Kirk Watson filed a bill earlier this legislative session to toughen penalties when motorists fail to stop and render aid at the scene of an accident.
This year alone, there have been at least three auto-pedestrian deaths. Last year, 26 pedestrians were killed by moving vehicles.