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Published: Friday, 3/24/2006

Drunken driver sentenced to 4 years for fatal accident

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A Toledo woman who was drunk last year when she sped through a red light at Heatherdowns Boulevard and Reynolds Road, killing a 22-year-old college student, ignored the warning signs that she was a danger to other motorists, a Lucas County Common Pleas Court judge said yesterday.

In an emotional hearing, Judge Ruth Ann Franks sentenced Lafonda Willis, 23, to four years in prison for the June 27 accident that killed Nasreen "Sissy'' Bagheri at the South Toledo intersection.

Willis, of 4686 South Park Lane, was convicted Feb. 10 of aggravated vehicular homicide.

Judge Franks said Willis was given warning signs that she was a danger to other. "This was a perverse disregard for a known risk," she said.

Willis' blood-alcohol content was 0.17 percent, more than double the 0.08 percent legal limit for a motorist in Ohio.

She was driving an estimated 55 mph in a 45 mph zone when she ran the red light about 11 p.m., colliding with the vehicle of Ms. Bagheri, of Cook Drive.

Willis had at least three prior convictions for speeding in Ohio and Florida as well as other traffic violations, including running a red light and careless driving.

John Weglian, chief of the special units division for the county prosecutor's office, said motorists who were behind the defendant said she never hit the brakes and witnesses estimated she was about 100 yards from the intersection when the light changed to red.

Mr. Weglian said that if Willis had applied the brakes, Ms. Bagheri likely would not have been killed.

Judge Franks said Willis was irresponsible in drinking cocktails at a restaurant, getting behind the wheel, and driving erratically as she approached the intersection.

During the hearing, the victim's mother, Mary Bagheri, tearfully told Judge Franks about how devastating her daughter's death has been to her family. She placed a photograph of her only daughter on a table before she spoke.

"It hurts so bad not to be able to hug her and kiss that sweet face. Her smile would light up my life every day," she said.

A 2001 Rogers High School graduate, Ms. Bagheri was about a year away from receiving a degree in paralegal work from Stautzenberger College, a step in her goal of becoming a lawyer.

Mrs. Bagheri said later that she found notes on her daughter's computer that expressed her desire for a career in law. "She said she might be interested in criminal law because there are so many people who are willing to break the law," she said.

Three young women who were high school classmates of the victim wore T-shirts that were printed with her picture. They hugged and cried in the courtroom at the end of the hearing.

Judge Franks stayed the sentence until May 5 to allow Willis to finish graduate classes at the University of Toledo. She also suspended the defendant's driver's license for 10 years.

Contact Mark Reiter at:

markreiter@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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