It was a scene riddled with emotion this morning as the arraignment for Katie McKewon was held.
Friends and family members of Laurel Williams, who was killed in a car accident Oct. 20, came to the hearing at the Alameda County Superior Courthouse in Pleasanton, donning 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. Previously, she was arrested 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. McKewon, also 19, was driving. On Thursday, Pleasanton police released the results of a toxicology report, revealing McKewon had a blood alcohol content of three times the legal limit of .08. The Alameda County District Attorney's office has charged her 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.
Elliot said McKewon had been staying at a residential alcohol treatment facility in Berkeley, where she surrendered to police Wednesday night.
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 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 yet.
"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.
Elliot appealed to the judge, saying if bail was set, McKewon would be returned to the rehab facility.
The prosecutor argued for the defendant to remain in jail, saying "the time has passed for residential treatment."
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 Nov. 20, 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, adding that there's been a lot of misinformation.
"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."
He added that he wasn't sure whether McKewon would be posting bail or not.