Driver pleads no contest to charges in fatal hit-and-run collision while texting

Marie Coyner, 24, faces a sentence ranging from probation to 4 years in prison

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comApril 10, 2014 

A motorist who struck and killed a pedestrian while texting could face a maximum of four years in prison, a judge said, based on the terms of a no-contest plea entered Thursday.

Marie Marguerite Coyner, 24, of Nipomo, pleaded no contest to vehicular manslaughter, a misdemeanor, and a felony charge of leaving the scene of an accident. She also admitted to an enhancement on the hit-and-run for personally inflicting great bodily injury.

According to a police report, Christopher Tietjen, 24, was walking on the right shoulder of Thompson Road in Nipomo around 9 p.m. on Nov. 12, 2012, when Coyner approached in a 2007 Prius.

Because she was texting while driving, the report said, Coyner was distracted and veered off the road, striking Tietjen. After the impact, Coyner allegedly drove off, failing to report the collision. Tietjen’s body was discovered at 11 a.m. the next morning, partially hidden in grass and brush.

Several tips from South County residents eventually led police to Coyner, who was arrested at her workplace.

The case has been delayed as the attorneys and judge have attempted to settle complicated legal issues related to the great bodily injury enhancement. Superior Court Judge Dodie Harman has ruled that a three-year term the enhancement would normally add to a sentence cannot be factored into this case. That is because the great bodily injury did not occur when Coyner fled — the criminal part of a hit-and-run.

Whether the enhancement can even count as part of the conviction has not been determined. If it does, as the District Attorney’s Office argues, the enhancement could count as a strike felony, meaning Coyner would have to serve more of her sentence if given prison time and would face greater sentencing for any future convictions.

If the enhancement does not count as part of the conviction, as the defense argues, the enhancement will be dropped. Coyner has no previous convictions.

After her hearing Thursday, Coyner cried and hugged her mother before she was taken into custody. She will initially be taken to a women’s prison, where she will remain without bail at least until her next hearing. While there, she will undergo a 90-day diagnostic during which she will be evaluated by the warden, a sociologist and a psychologist.

Both the Department of Corrections and the county probation department will offer recommendations to the court before Coyner’s sentencing, which is set for July 9. At that time she faces a minimum sentence of no jail and probation up to a maximum of four years in prison.

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