TAMPA — The silver Nissan Altima almost ran into another car at a Shell gas station during the morning rush hour Oct. 25 before it pulled onto Mango Road, rolled over a median, then turned west onto Interstate 4, where it slammed into a guardrail.
When bystanders ran to the crash scene that morning two weeks ago, they found Helen Sabrina Mention slumped against the driver’s door, her eyes closed, blood on her nose. Her infant granddaughter lay beside her. The baby did not cry.
Baby Harlem Mention, who was just 10 months old, died at a hospital three days later.
Her grandmother appeared Friday morning in a Tampa courtroom, where witnesses offered new details of what happened before and after the fatal crash.
Mention, 50, faces charges of DUI manslaughter and aggravated manslaughter of a child. She sat quietly at a defense table, wearing a red jail shirt and handcuffs, as the witnesses testified.
But a prosecutor had a hard time convincing a judge that she should be held in jail without bail.
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A defense attorney argued there was no direct testimony to suggest Mention was intoxicated at the time. There was only the word of a state trooper, who said he’d heard as much from a hospital nurse.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ralph Stoddard agreed, setting bail at $100,000.
Among the witnesses was Jamila Felder, who said she saw Mention at the Shell gas station on Mango Road, just south of I-4, a few minutes before the crash. The Nissan almost hit her car, she said. She could see the child as the car passed.
She was asked if the driving appeared reckless.
“I thought it was a concern, yes,” she said, “Because there was a baby.”
Felder followed as the Nissan made a right on Mango Road and rolled over the median. The car went from right to left, she said, then turned onto the on-ramp.
She didn’t see the crash, but saw the aftermath, she said. She got out and encountered a man, who carried the infant. She gave him a bag, which he used to protect the child as he placed her atop the guardrail. The baby appeared unconscious, Felder said.
Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Luis Consuegra testified that when he visited Tampa General Hospital later that day, he found Mention disoriented, confused, her words slurred. She was able identify herself, but when the trooper asked about the crash, she said she couldn’t remember what happened.
The trooper later spoke with a nurse, whom he said reported that Mention’s blood alcohol level was .226, more than double the legal limit of .08.
But the state presented no direct testimony or medical records of Mention’s blood alcohol content. Likewise, there were no witnesses who reported smelling alcohol on her.
Assistant Public Defender John Grant argued that her behavior could have been due to a head injury. He suggested that the crash could have been the result of there being heavy traffic in what the troopers acknowledged is a dangerous stretch of road. He vowed to take the case to trial.