Prosecutor: Driver in deadly crash smoked 'wet'

Anaida Medina and daughter Stephanie Garcia in a portrait that the family assembled from two photos.
Anaida Medina and daughter Stephanie Garcia in a portrait that the family assembled from two photos.
Posted: August 11, 2013

An unemployed hotel worker had smoked "wet" - a potent mix of marijuana and PCP - before he speeded into oncoming traffic, killing a mother and daughter, in January, a Camden County prosecutor said Friday.

Anaida Medina, 36, and her daughter Stephanie Garcia, a senior at Cherry Hill High School West, died at the scene on Chapel Avenue in Merchantville on Jan. 31.

The family had recently moved from Elizabeth, N.J. Garcia, 18, had repeated her junior year because she had missed school to take care of her mother, who was recovering from back surgery, said Medina's brother, Richard Quinones, 39.

Keith Johnson Jr., 31, of Pennsauken, pleaded not guilty Friday in Superior Court to charges of vehicular homicide in the two deaths, and of assault by auto in the injury to his own female passenger.

He is being held in the Camden County Jail on $1 million bail.

"He destroyed our family," said Quinones, a public school custodian in North Jersey. "They were two special people to us. I'll never know what it's like to grow old with them."

The female passenger told police she and Johnson had smoked "wet" before the crash, and he ignored her pleas to slow down, Howard Gilfert, an assistant prosecutor, said, reading from court documents. Authorities did not say where the two had smoked the drug.

Johnson had "significant levels" of PCP in his blood and urine, Gilfert said.

Johnson was so badly injured that he couldn't be arraigned for months. His attorney, Robert Simons of Haddon Heights, said his client had to use a wheelchair for the last two months and was bedridden before then with injuries including a broken pelvis.

On Friday, he shuffled into the courtroom. Lanky and bearded, he showed little emotion.

Simons argued for lower bail, citing his client's previous job at a Voorhees hotel before he was laid off Dec. 31 and his community ties.

Gilfert told the court that Johnson has a long list of offenses - an adjudicated aggravated sexual assault charge as a juvenile and multiple offenses as an adult, including a 2001 aggravated-assault conviction.

His license had been suspended numerous times in the last dozen years, Gilfert said.

Gilfert said Johnson was traveling "well in excess" of the posted 25 m.p.h. speed limit along Chapel when his northbound silver Dodge Durango hit the southbound Honda Odyssey driven by Medina about 3:42 p.m.

Medina had just picked up Garcia from school and dropped a friend of her daughter's off in Merchantville, Quinones said.

On Friday, Quinones recalled that his niece had, just months before the accident, bought a house in Cherry Hill for her family.

Garcoa, who had just turned 18 and was the oldest of five children, had gained access to insurance money awarded years before when her father, Junito Garcia, was fatally struck by a truck on the New Jersey Turnpike. She used $30,000 of the money to help buy the house, Quinones said.

"She just wanted to have a better life and do something good for her mom. Her mom was always struggling in life," he said.

The family's new home was a brick rancher with a large backyard on Wisteria Avenue. It was the first house the family had owned.


Contact Darran Simon at 856-779-3829 or at dsimon@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @darransimon.

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