Decision to drop case in Miami hit-and-run sparks outrage from relatives of dead woman

 
 
University of Miami law school employee Joy Clayton in court Thursday as prosecutors dropped a hit-and-run charge against her.
University of Miami law school employee Joy Clayton in court Thursday as prosecutors dropped a hit-and-run charge against her.
The Miami Herald / David Ovalle

dovalle@MiamiHerald.com

Prosecutors on Thursday dropped their case against a University of Miami law school employee accused of a fatal hit-and-run car crash in Brickell — a decision that immediately outraged relatives of the woman who died.

Joy Terry Lee Clayton was charged last year with leaving the scene of the accident that killed Ana Mares, 52, who was walking across Brickell Bay Drive.

While Clayton was behind the wheel, prosecutors say they could not disprove her claim that she thought a bottle or “some object” had been thrown at her windshield.

Attorney Joseph Rosenbaum, who represents the Mares family, said relatives were “upset and disappointed” that prosecutors refused to take the case to a jury. He said evidence showed Clayton, driving a small Mazda sedan, was sending cellphone text messages at the time of the impact.

“A car hits a dog, you know you hit a dog. A car hits a deer, you know you hit a deer,” Rosenbaum said. “A car hits a 160-pound woman and she’s riding on the hood and your windshield, you gotta know.”

Prosecutors, however, said a review of the evidence showed Mares never landed fully on the hood but struck a glancing blow on the far side of the windshield.

“In fact, the damage to the vehicle and the injuries to the body support the defendant’s assertion that she did not know what had struck her car, much less know that it was a pedestrian,” prosecutor Jessica Dobbins wrote in a final report on the case.

Clayton, 38, was charged in August with leaving the scene of an accident involving a death, a crime that has received much attention in Miami-Dade after a series of recent, high-profile cases.

Spurred by outrage over an earlier Miami-Dade case, lawmakers recently passed a law that imposes a four-year mandatory-minimum prison sentence for drivers convicted of leaving the scene of a crash that kills someone. The law took effect July 1.

Mares was a breast cancer survivor who worked as a paralegal at a Miami financial advising firm. Clayton worked as an administrative assistant at the University of Miami’s law school — on the campus where Mares’ sister also works, although the two did not know each other.

On the night of March 22, 2013, Mares was walking across Brickell Bay Drive to her car when Clayton’s four-door G3 2010 Mazda struck her. The car slowed down momentarily and then accelerated and kept driving, police said.

A father and son nearby rushed to Mares’ aid, called 911 and used Ana Mares’ phone to dial the woman’s mother. Mares later died.

Traffic homicide detectives soon found the damaged black Mazda behind Clayton’s home in Cutler Bay, but did not immediately arrest Clayton as they built a case proving she was behind the wheel.

They soon learned that immediately after the accident, Clayton called several auto glass repair companies — and on one audio-recorded line, said, “Something hit my car; I’m assuming it’s a bottle.”

Clayton never gave a sworn statement to police, and never admitted to anyone that she might have hit a person. She told one friend that she did not stop because “it was really dark” and she “was concerned for her own safety.”

She also took the car to the house of a friend — who told police that “there was no visible evidence of blood, brain matter, skin, flesh or any other biological material” on the car, according to the prosecutor’s report.

Several red hairs, probably belonging to Mares, were stuck in the damaged windshield, but a detective admitted the hairs “were difficult to see.”

Prosecutors also determined that Miami Detective Joseph Kennedy used faulty calculations to determine that Mares’ body flew 60 feet, something that did not happen.

Defense attorney Pat Dray said Clayton was “relieved but she’s not celebrating.”

“She honestly didn’t know she had hit anybody,” Dray said. “She’s saddened by the whole situation. There’s no winners in this case.”

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