Two Teen Traffic Accidents, Two Different Charges

Thursday, September 21st 2006, 3:13 pm
By: News On 6

Charges stemming from two recent fatal traffic accidents in Tulsa are raising a number of questions. In one case, a black teen could face adult charges and is in the Tulsa County jail. In the other case, a white teen faces juvenile charges and is at home.

Several viewers e-mailed the News on 6 asking why? Some see this as a race issue.

News on 6 reporter Omar Villafranca spoke with the DA who disagrees.

11 year-old Fabian Saenz was killed last week in east Tulsa, after a car spun out of control and hit him. Tulsa Police say another youngster, 15 year-old Melissa Warren was driving the car. She now faces second-degree murder charges.

Back in July, Witnesses say two SUVs with Jenks High School students were driving on the Creek Turnpike when one lost control and crashed. 17 year old Garrett Bennet was thrown from the SUV and died.

Before the wreck, witnesses saw one SUV shooting paintballs at the other but only juvenile charges were filed in that case.

Two similar cases, only Melissa Warren is black and the Jenks students are white. Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris: " First and foremost, I want the people of Tulsa County to know that race is never an issue. It's never a variable and it's never a consideration."

Harris says there are five reasons why Melissa Warren is in the Tulsa County jail and the Jenks students are at home. Harris says the facts of the case warranted different charges. He says the accident in east Tulsa happened in a residential neighborhood, while the Jenks wreck happened on a highway. "I think that people have an expectation of safety in a residential neighborhood that they don't have on a highway."

Second, in east Tulsa, Saenz was a mowing his lawn on his own property. Harris says the Bennet voluntarily put himself in that position by getting into the car.

Three, Harris believes Saenz was an innocent victim, just mowing his lawn. Harris says in Bennet's case, he was not wearing a seatbelt, which could have saved his life.

Fourth, Harris says the car that killed Saenz was racing in a neighborhood, while the SUV that Bennet was riding in lost control.

And finally. “Fifth, the one in the residential neighborhood is estimated at going somewhere between 30 and 45 miles over the posted speed limit in a residential neighborhood. The other is estimated somewhere between 15 and 25 miles over on a highway. When you take those and look at those factors, that's why one is more egregious, that's why one gets charged with second degree murder and the other gets charged with negligent homicide."

Tim Harris says the facts are the only thing he pays attention to.