Fatal Swan Boat Club crash: Monroe County woman charged with homicide, drunk driving

The driver who plowed into the Swan Boat Club in Monroe County over the weekend was arraigned Tuesday morning on murder and other drunk driving charges and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. 

Authorities believe the 66-year-old Marshella Chidester was drunk when she crashed into the Berlin Township business around 3 p.m. Saturday as a children's birthday party was being held inside. 

Judge Christian Horkey gave Chidester a $1.5 million bond, siding with recommendations from the prosecution.

During an emotional arraignment Tuesday morning, where several family members of the victims argued in favor of a high bond, they accused Chidester of being aware she shouldn't drive because of the medication she was taking - as well as having drank at a bar hours before the crash.

Chidester is charged with two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of operating while intoxicated causing death, and four counts of operating while intoxicated causing serious injury.

Marshella Chidester, 66, of Monroe County

Her defense attorney Bill Colovos argued that Chidester's driving record, which includes no criminal history, was grounds for a $100,000 bond cash/surety with a tether.

"Never had traffic involvement, or law enforcement involvement. That adds a little credibility to her side of table," he said. He added that Chidester had drunk one glass of wine during her time at the bar. 

He also said she had suffered from a history of seizures since last November.

However, the prosecution said her blood alcohol level was over the legal limit and there was no evidence she had suffered from a seizure. 

"What's more is based on - she indicated herself that she had seizure issues and she was on some medication and that she wasn't supposed to be drinking but admitted that she had been drinking that day," the prosecutor said. "So she is a danger to this community and that is illustrated no clearer than the two dead children that she is directly responsible for."

The next court appearance in the case is April 30. 


Drunk driving charges authorized in Swan Boat Club crash; lawyer says medical condition to blame

Alcohol, seizures, fleeing another crash scene – competing narratives about what led to a fatal crash at the Swan Boat Club emerged during the suspect's arraignment. Marshella Chidester is facing murder and drunk driving charges for the fatal Monroe County crash.

Security video captured Chidester's SUV speeding through the parking lot before crashing through a wall of the building. The crash killed 8-year-old Alanah Phillips and 5-year-old Zayn Phillips, who were siblings. 

Multiple other people were also hurt in the crash, including Alanah and Zayn's older brother Jayden and mother Mariah, who suffered critical injuries. Witnesses said about 70 people were attending the party. 

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help bury Lana and Zayn. Money raised will also help pay for their mother and brother's medical care.

Another GoFundMe account was created for a young woman named Lia on Monday, one of the victims who suffered serious injuries.

According to her father, Lia was attending her 3-year-old cousin's birthday party. 

Chidester lived just a few hundred yards away from Swan Boat Club. The Monroe County Sheriff's Office said she was at a local bar prior to the crash. 

An attorney representing Verna's Tavern, where the woman was allegedly drinking, is now being investigated by police. The tavern issued the following statement:

"We are saddened beyond words by the news of this horrible tragedy. Our most sincere thoughts and prayers go out to all those that lost their lives, their family members, witnesses and all of our community that is in pain due to this incident. We ask for patience during the investigation and that the justice system be allowed to work to uncover the actual facts surrounding the accident."

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