Mad River Union
EUREKA – The judge in Marci Kitchen’s vehicular manslaughter case has granted a defense motion for a second continuance, postponing the Fortuna woman’s preliminary hearing until March 20.
It had been set for Dec. 5.
Despite the state’s pro forma opposition, Superior Court Judge Joyce D. Hinrichs readily found “good cause” on Nov. 30 to grant the request. She found in favor of the defense’s need to evaluate a large amount of evidence in the alleged hit-and-run deaths last July of two 14-year olds, Kitchen’s daughter Kiya and her close friend Faith Lorraine Tsarnas.
The defendant was not present in court last week.
Some of the evidence is of a “very technical nature” requiring laboratory analysis and evaluation by outside experts, one of Kitchen’s lawyers, Eureka criminal defense attorney Benjamin Okin told the court. He said several conflicts in his own schedule necessitated the continuance until March 20.
Both the prosecution and the defense expect the preliminary hearing to run five days and involve 11 witnesses.
Deputy District Attorney Roger Rees, standing in for Deputy District Attorney Stacey Eads, who will prosecute the case, objected to the continuance, but voiced no arguments against it. He affirmed that the state had complied with Marsy’s Law, the California Victims’ Bill of Rights Act of 2008. It codifies the legal rights of crime victims and allows parole boards far greater leeway in denying convicts parole.
Kitchen, 39, is free on $750,000 bail and has not appeared in court since her arraignment Sept. 15. She pleaded not guilty on multiple counts to striking the girls on July 12 with her 2015 light gray Jeep Wrangler. The girls were skateboarding together about 9:15 p.m. on Eel River Drive south of Kenmar Road on Fortuna’s outskirts.
California Highway Patrol investigators said the Jeep was southbound on Eel River Drive, proceeding at an undetermined speed. Kitchen allegedly fled the scene and headed eastbound on Drake Hill Road.
Count 1 accuses her of the gross vehicular manslaughter of both girls, plus “special allegations” under the same count of fleeing the scene and inflicting “great bodily harm” to Tsarnas.
Under Count 2, she is accused of drunken driving causing injury “with [a] special allegation of great bodily injury” to her daughter Kiya.
According to law enforcement, the child suffered a brain injury that left her comatose and paralyzed when she died the next morning, July 13, in an Oakland hospital.
A second special allegation under Count 2 charges Kitchen with causing “great bodily injury or death” to Tsarnas, who was dead at the scene.
Following execution of a search warrant, Kitchen’s Jeep was recovered by detectives on July 13, in the fenced backyard behind a gate at Kitchen’s residence on Becker Lane in Fortuna, about a mile from where the hit-and-run occurred.
Initially, the California Highway Patrol named Kitchen’s reputed boyfriend, Joshua Wren Pearlston, a second “party of interest” wanted for questioning.
Later the highway patrol informed the press that “Ms. Kitchen and Mr. Pearlston were contacted at the scene of the collision the night that it occurred [July 12],” but has never explained why no arrest was made there and then.
Okin and the highway patrol were deadlocked for weeks over Kitchen’s and Pearlston’s whereabouts following the collision on July 12. The California Highway Patrol issued repeated public complaints that Kitchen had not “made herself available to investigators,” while Okin publicly insisted “our client remains willing to surrender herself to law enforcement immediately.” Eventually officers did interview Pearlston.
As Okin had promised all along, Kitchen did surrender at the District Attorney’s office on Sept. 14, more than a month after the fatal collision. She was arraigned the next day.
Fending off public complaints that the investigation was taking too long and that Kitchen should have been arrested promptly, the highway patrol asked for patience, saying the complexity of the case necessarily prolonged the inquiry.
The Humboldt County Sheriff’s office, not the CHP, announced that Kitchen had turned herself in.
The Tsarnas funeral July 16 at Hydesville Community Church and Kiya Kitchen’s memorial service July 31 at River Lodge in Fortuna drew hundreds of mourners grieving over the deaths of the two teenage friends.