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With victim still in hospital, hit-and-run suspect pleads not guilty

Casey Grove
Tevin George was the victim of a hit and run accident July 20, 2013.
Courtesy family
Kayla Johnson is arraigned Saturday, July 27, 2013 in the hit and run case that left Tevin George in the hospital.
Casey Grove
Tevin George's family and friend talk with media after the arraignment of the hit and run suspect accused of hitting George, Saturday, July 27, 2013. From left - Tevin George's friend, Allen Cragle; his mother, Charlene George; and father, Michael Oustigoff and his sisters, aunt and uncle.
Casey Grove / Anchorage Daily News

Hiding her face in a jailhouse courtroom Saturday, the 20-year-old woman charged with driving drunk, hitting a pedestrian and speeding away July 20 in South Anchorage entered a plea of not guilty.

Officers arrested the woman, Kayla Johnson, late Friday. She was still jailed late Saturday on $75,000 bail. Her alleged victim, 18-year-old Tevin George, is still badly hurt a week after getting hit crossing Huffman Road, his family said.

In court, George's family tried to get a look at Johnson, a young woman with her brown hair pulled back in a short ponytail, small, red-painted fingernails visible while she held up her three-page criminal complaint to block the view of three TV cameras.

Johnson told a magistrate she did not need a court-appointed attorney.

"I have a lawyer," Johnson said. "It's one of my dad's friends. I haven't been able to reach my dad. I haven't been able to use a phone."

It was unclear if anyone in the courtroom was there for Johnson. Outside, George's family told reporters he continued to improve but was still unable to speak, sit or stand on his own.

George is the latest victim in a series of vehicle-versus-pedestrian collisions in Anchorage since 2011 that left people dead or badly hurt. At least two of the cases remain unsolved.

STILL BREATHING

George was staying the night at the home of his best friend, 17-year-old Allen Cragle, who said they walked to get a soda at the Holiday gas station on Huffman Road. The store is about two miles from Cragle's house.

On the way back, headed east, they crossed Huffman near Gregory Road, Cragle said. George was not far behind him, looking at a cellphone, and had one foot on the curb and one still in the roadway, his friend said. It was about 3:50 a.m. and raining.

"She just came out of nowhere," Cragle said. "I just heard something hit really hard. I looked back and I see Tevin fly up in the air and I see him hit the ground."

Cragle pulled George out of the road and checked his friend's breathing and heartbeat. His father had taught him that, Cragle said, after time working at a clinic and in the military.

"I didn't want to move him too much," Cragle said. "He was still breathing. He still had a heartbeat. His heart rate was up. He was breathing kind of heavily, just barely."

According to the criminal complaint filed against Johnson, it was 3:57 a.m. when Cragle called 911. Police officers arrived and found George unconscious with "massive head trauma." Paramedics rushed him to a hospital.

Officers found and photographed broken-off pieces of the vehicle, one of which carried a part number for a Chrysler PT Cruiser made between 2006 and 2008, the charges say.

Five days later, a tipster called police to report a damaged PT Cruiser parked on Goose Berry Place, about two miles from the scene of the collision. The officers seized the black 2006 PT Cruiser; it had front-end damage, the charges say.

"The pieces of the vehicle that were found at the scene were the same as the pieces that were missing from this car," the charges say. "There was also damage to the windshield which was consistent with a pedestrian strike."

The owner of the Goose Berry home said the vehicle belonged to Johnson, who was not there at the time, according to the charges.

Police talked to at least two others who had contact with Johnson that night, but it is unclear from the charges how they reached the witnesses. One was a man who Johnson called, crying, saying she had wrecked her car. He met her at a church, according to the charges.

"He saw the vehicle had extensive damage and asked her what she hit. She told him she hit a mailbox," the charges say. "When he told her there were no mailboxes on Huffman and asked if she had hit a person, she said no."

The man told police Johnson looked "extremely intoxicated," the charges say.

"This witness said Kayla kept cutting her hands by pushing on the smashed windshield trying to push it back into place."

She tried to bring an open bottle of alcohol with her in the man's pickup, but he refused, the charges say. Another man apparently riding with Johnson, who is only mentioned once in the criminal complaint, took the bottle and walked away.

Later, Johnson sent text messages to another person who talked to police. In one message, Johnson said she had been so drunk she did not remember what happened, the charges say.

Johnson's past criminal record includes charges of careless driving and a conviction for repeatedly consuming alcohol as a minor.

A BETTER PERSON

George's father, Michael Oustigoff, and his mother, Charlene George, held each other and talked to reporters outside the Anchorage Jail on Saturday. Oustigoff said he did not care if Johnson covered her face. They had been able to see her, Oustigoff said. But there was something about the way she sounded that bothered him.

"It doesn't sound like she's taking it seriously. It's not something she can just shrug off her shoulders," Oustigoff said. "I hope she serves her full time. I hope she gets some treatment or help and just that she finds some compassion."

"I hope she becomes a better person," he said.

Oustigoff said his son has certainly changed through the whole ordeal. The active teenager, who was three credits shy of graduating high school, was now confined to a hospital, his father said.

George is still struggling to talk to his parents, Oustigoff said. His most recent improvement at the hospital was when nurses stood him up and briefly allowed him to stand without help, Oustigoff said.

But George gets irritable and excited sometimes, and the doctors have to medicate him, his father said. Johnson should think about the damage she has done, he said, and maybe come help George get well.

"There's people that are out there, just driving their vehicles and hitting people and thinking that it's all right, or afraid to turn themselves in, or just flat-out don't care," Oustigoff said.

"I'm kind of happy they found her and arrested her," said Cragle, George's friend. "It sounded like she didn't really care, like she just tried to shrug it off and it's no big deal. But this is a very big deal."

Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.

 


By CASEY GROVE
casey.grove@adn.com