By Dave Rogers
---- — HAMPTON, N.H. — A Seabrook woman accused of careening into bicyclists Saturday morning on a coastal bridge, killing two and injuring two others, is heading to court this morning to face negligent homicide charges.
Nineteen-year-old Darriean Hess is expected to be arraigned this morning at Seabrook Circuit Court on two felony negligent homicide counts and two felony counts of second-degree assault. Each charge is a Class B felony, carrying a maximum sentence of seven years in jail and fines up to $4,000, per charge.
Pamela Wells, 60, of South Hamilton, and Elise Bouchard, 52, of Danvers, were killed in the accident. Uwe Uhmeyer, 60, of Essex, and Margo Heigh, 54, of Danvers were both injured and transported to local hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries.
Bail was set at $50,000 cash. Hess was arrested yesterday afternoon and transported to Rockingham County Jail in Brentwood to await arraignment, according to Hampton police.
The investigation into what prompted Hess, who was traveling southbound, to cross the center line of the Neil R. Underwood Bridge around 8:30 a.m. and strike bicyclists traveling north continues. During a press conference outside the Hampton Police Department about an hour after her arrest, neither police Chief Jamie Sullivan nor Rockingham County Attorney Jim Reams would comment on whether alcohol or texting was involved but said the crash appears to have been the result of driver inattention and excessive speed.
Reams wouldn’t comment on how fast Hess was traveling other than to say that it was excessive and that witnesses were surprised by how fast she was driving. The county attorney said it was still unknown where Hess was going at the time of Saturday’s accident.
On Route 1A, the bridge connects Hampton Beach and Seabrook Beach. The two-lane bridge, which is about 300 yards long, arches over the tidal waters connecting Hampton Harbor to the ocean.
As part of the investigation, police obtained a blood sample from Hess that is being examined for alcohol and other substances. They also confiscated her cellphone.
Heigh spoke with reporters briefly at her home on Otis Street in Danvers yesterday afternoon after Hess’ arrest was announced. Her face was bruised around her chin.
“I hope that justice will be served,” Heigh said. “That is what we all want so we can all heal.”
Despite the tragedy, Heigh expressed sympathy for the 19-year-old driver.
“I’m sad for her and her family but not as sad as I am for me and (my friends’) families,” she said.
Heigh described Wells and Bouchard as wonderful friends who trained for the ride together throughout the summer.
“We spent a lot of time cycling together,” she said.
Heigh did not elaborate on the accident or the extent of her injuries, but she was walking yesterday.
“I am obviously a miracle,” she said.
Less than eight hours before Saturday’s fatal accident, Hess was pulled over for speeding over the same bridge and told police she didn’t have a license, according to local police.
Hampton police confirmed that Hess, driving the same 2002 Honda Civic involved in the crash, was stopped on Ocean Boulevard at 12:45 a.m. Saturday after crossing the bridge at a high rate of speed. A Hampton police officer using a radar gun clocked Hess at 59 mph; the speed limit is 30 mph.
When asked to produce a license, she told police she didn’t have one. She was issued a summons for a speeding violation and for operating a motor vehicle without a license, and ordered to wait for a friend to drive her car away. Hess is due to appear at Hampton District Court in Seabrook on Oct. 23 to answer to those charges.
Sullivan and Reams explained to the dozen or so members of the media surrounding them that speeding and driving without a license charges aren’t considered criminal offenses and that the officer who pulled her over hours before the crash acted properly.
“The incident that happened that night had nothing to do with the prosecution of the deaths or the injuries,” Reams said.
“These two incidents are completely unrelated,” Sullivan added.
The owner of the car has yet to be charged for allowing someone without a license to use the vehicle, but Reams and Sullivan said that could change as the investigation continues.
When asked if he was frustrated that Saturday’s fatal accident occurred, Reams said, “Every one of these kinds of events is a tragedy.”
Salem News reporter Jonathan Phelps contributed to this report.