A motorist has pleaded guilty to a felony for driving away after fatally running over a woman in an Inver Grove Heights street and could be sentenced to no more than probation for what her attorney is calling “an innocent mistake.”
Breyona S. Cotton, 32, of Inver Grove Heights, entered her plea Tuesday, the day she was scheduled to go on trial in Dakota County District Court.
Cotton admitted leaving the scene of a collision resulting in death in connection with the death in January 2019 of 55-year-old Haimanot Gezahegne Gebremedhin of Inver Grove Heights.
The plea agreement caps any jail time at four months, defense attorney Robert Christensen said Wednesday.
But Christensen said he’ll argue for no jail time for Cotton, who is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 31. He added that if his client remains law-abiding while on three to five years of probation, the charge she pleaded guilty to will be reduced to a misdemeanor.
“This was an innocent mistake here,” Christensen said. “I think there are two victims.”
County Attorney James Backstrom’s spokeswoman, Monica Jensen, said that Backstrom is “pleased that Ms. Cotton has accepted responsibility for this crime.”
Christensen said Cotton was driving the speed limit along 80th Street after dark on Jan. 5, 2019, when she struck what she thought was a deer.
The defense attorney explained that it was “pitch dark [and] there is no lighting at all ... and this woman came out of nowhere. ... The woman was jaywalking.”
He went on to describe other factors in his client’s defense, including that Gebremedhin was “dark complected and not very big.”
Cotton came to police headquarters the day after the crash with her attorney and explained that she thought she had struck a deer, according to the criminal complaint.
Police searched the car two days after the collision and said in a court filing that they collected DNA from smears on the windshield and hood, hair from the windshield, and fibers on the hood.
Gebremedhin should have been visible to the driver, the complaint continued, and “any reasonable investigation into the collision would have revealed the victim’s body.”