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St. Albans driver jailed for killing two in crash

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A St. Albans woman who killed a teen and a toddler and injured three other girls while driving under the influence of heavy drugs was sentenced Friday to several years in prison and was personally reprimanded by the youths’ parents.

Sheila Bethea, 47, of 112-02 199th St. pleaded guilty earlier in the month to manslaughter in the Oct. 26, 2009, crash that took the life of 15-year-old Katherine Willis and 5-year-old Melissa Elh-Mirra, who were foster children of Bethea’s mother, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said. Bethea admitted to smoking crack, doing cocaine and drinking alcohol the morning before she took her mother’s children in her minivan, according to investigators.

“The defendant has admitted her guilt to a terrible and tragic crime and will serve prison time, giving her the opportunity to reflect upon her reckless actions which resulted in the untimely death of two young people,” the DA said in a statement.

Bethea was driving with five children, whose ages ranged between 5 and 15, and an adult passenger in a Mazda minivan that was not fitted out to carry all of the children properly, according to the DA. Bethea had the middle seat of the vehicle removed, had one of the kids sit on the floor of the minivan and provided no child seat for the toddler passengers, according to Brown.

Bethea’s mother was the foster mother for four of the five children and the adopted mother of the other.

Around 5 p.m., she crossed a double-yellow line at the corner of Arcade Avenue and Dunkirk Street in St. Albans driving faster than 30 miles per hour and collided with a Toyota minivan that was being driven by 63-year-old Carl Williams, the DA said. Melissa and Willis were killed while Williams; Tatiyana Bethea, 5; Camera Sedonovich, 10; and Allyahh Garcia, 11, and the adult Mazda passenger Fatou Sonko, 43, were sent to the hospital for treatment along with Shelia Bethea, according to Brown.

Eyewitnesses said they saw Shelia Bethea, who appeared intoxicated, scream and act wildly while waiting for first responders to get to the scene.

Shelia Bethea was immediately arrested and has been held on $500,000 bail since the incident, Brown said.

Acting Queens Supreme Court Justice Dorothy Chin-Brandt issued a prison sentence of 2 1/3 to seven years during Friday’s hearing, the DA said. The relatives of the deceased children were at the hearing and could not contain their anger against the driver, the New York Post reported.

Melissa’s biological mother, Jennifer Mirra, showed Shelia Bethea a photo of her daughter that was taken at the morgue, the paper reported.

“You did this to my baby. This is what you did to my baby, you murderer,” she said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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