Friends and family members of Laurel Williams, who was killed in a car accident Oct. 20, came to the hearing wearing white T-shirts with a picture of Williams wearing a green dress, blowing a kiss to the camera.
The judge presiding in the court hearing, a stern Judge Hugh Walker, set McKewon's bail at $250,000. She was arrested Nov. 7 on a no-bail warrant. The ruling came after some emotional testimony from both the prosecutor in the case and McKewon's defense attorney.
"This is a tragic case involving two best friends," Defense Attorney Kirk Elliot told the judge.
Described as McKewon's best friend, Williams, 19, was killed in a head-on collision on Foothill Road, north of Highland Oaks Drive. McKewon, also 19, was driving. Pleasanton police released the results of a toxicology report, revealing McKewon had a blood alcohol content of three times the legal limit of .08.
"It's in that range," said Lt. Tom Fenner of the Pleasanton Police Department. "We're not releasing the exact amount but it's pretty close to that amount."
Toxicology reports for Williams may take several weeks to get from the coroner's office, he added.
Results showed that there were no drugs in her system, according to Fenner.
The Alameda County District Attorney's office has charged McKewon with gross vehicular manslaughter, which carries a sentence of between four and 10 years if convicted. She also faces a felony charge of drunk driving, assessed due to a 70-year-old woman in a Mercedes SUV who was critically injured in the collision.
According to the California Penal Code, if proven guilty, the gross vehicular manslaughter charge is punishable by a state prison term of between four and 10 years. Comparably, a lesser charge of vehicular manslaughter (without gross negligence) is punishable by 16 months to four years.
McKewon's attorney said she had been staying at a residential alcohol treatment facility in Berkeley, where she surrendered to police Nov. 7.
While Elliot asserted that McKewon was not a flight risk and did not have a history of violence, Judge Walker said he couldn't forget the fact that McKewon had been arrested in June on a different alcohol-related charge, which Elliot described as assault against a police officer and public drunkenness. Neither charge has gone through the court system yet and Elliot said there is some disagreement on the assault charge. He said parties were looking at a deal to reduce the charges, but nothing's been worked out.
"It's too bad she didn't learn anything from her June 10th arrest," Judge Walker said.
"I'm sorry that you couldn't get to her sooner," the judge added, looking at McKewon's parents sitting in the front row.
After the judge's ruling in favor of setting bail, he cautioned Elliot that his client would not be allowed to drive, have any amount of alcohol in her system and must return to rehab to stay there seven days a week, 24 hours a day. If any of those orders were broken, he said he would revoke the bail.
The next hearing in the case has been scheduled for next Tuesday, where the defendant will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
After the court session, friends and family of Williams gathered down the hall. A representative from Mothers Against Drunk Driving informed the group what they could expect if the case goes to trial.
"It will be long and very difficult for everybody," he said. "It may go on a long time, could be nine months or longer."
Reached by phone after the arraignment, Elliot said he is still putting together the case and all of its details.
"As the facts unfold, there's going to be a lot of information and a lot of details that have not yet come out as to how it happened," he said.
"We're hopeful that another tragedy doesn't happen through the court system and we're hopeful that (McKewon) can get on with her life and focus on the issues that she has."
Elliot said he believes that his client understands the severity of the charges against her.
"It's important to point out as many people have: this is not just a one-sided situation," he said. "Obviously, there are a lot of players involved in this and these are young people. There were a lot of mistakes made by a lot of different parties involved and a lot of those parties haven't come forward. But that doesn't excuse the loss of a life, doesn't excuse drinking and driving to that extent."
With a case such as this, police struggle to find ways to spread the message to the community that underage drinking can have devastating consequences. "Obviously, a lot of lives have been ruined," Lt. Fenner said. "Our hearts go out to the Williams family and Katie and her family are never going to be the same, and then all the friends who were there or know these people are going to be affected by it forever too."
The police department has held town hall meetings this past year on underage drinking and plans to continue those.
"There needs to be more discussion--in the community and between families about underage drinking," he said. "It's a tough topic, but it needs to be discussed."
"We did (a town hall meeting) last spring for parents and there was very low turnout. We're very frustrated. We advertised them and we're presenting this information so parents can learn about what their kids are involved in and we're not seeing the interest. It's hard to help people who don't want to attend the meetings or spend the time."
Other programs the police are involved in include the "Every 15 Minutes" demonstration that is a re-enactment of a car accident involving teens who were drinking and those relating to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
The hardest part about seeing incidents like these is that they are 100 percent preventable, Fenner said.
"It's hard to get across to people the consequences that can happen to them," he said. "Younger people, especially, think that it's never going to happen to them, but here's another example. This could have been anywhere in America, same story, same bad decisions."
Check www.PleasantonWeekly.com for updates to this developing story.