Some 36 hours after surrendering to police, the driver wanted in connection with an alleged crosswalk hit and run was released from custody without being charged.
"I'm just grateful and thanking God," said Tiffani Lowden Wednesday after walking out of the Alhambra courthouse, where she had been transported for arraignment.
South Pasadena police investigators had sought a felony hit-and-run filing. Instead, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office sent the case back to detectives for additional investigation, said Deputy DA Michael Noyes.
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Det. Bill Early confirmed investigators were responding to the DA's follow-up request, but, like Noyes, declined to discuss what was lacking.
Sunday evening, a vehicle turning left from Columbia Street to Orange Grove Avenue struck the Hollon family of Pasadena as they were walking in the crosswalk. Bryan Hollon escaped with bruises, but wife Ali Hollon suffered a broken nose and severe facial cuts, and their 4 month old daughter sustained two fractures to her skull.
The family dog Babell was killed.
Media reports triggered a wave of tips to police, and one led to the identification of Lowden. Police said a family member persuaded Lowden to surrender Monday night, and Tuesday investigators recovered her Nissan Rogue from where it was parked in West Los Angeles.
Tuesday, Bryan and Ali Hollon expressed thanks and relief that the response had resulted in a suspect being taken into custody. After being informed of Lowden's release Wednesday, the family indicated they would have nothing further to say until more information was available.
Lowden told NBC4 she surrendered to police because "It was right," but declined to discuss the circumstances of the collision. "I can't say," she replied when asked if she had not seen the family
in the crosswalk.
Asked if she had anything to say to the Hollon family, she said simply, "I'm sorry."
Lowden, 38, spoke reluctantly as she waited for a family member to pick her up from the courthouse. She was clearly distraught over the series of events, referring repeatedly to her reliance on her Christian faith.
"I'm a good Christian girl," Lowden said.
It is still possible she will be charged.
"She shouldn't think she's off the hook," said Steve Cron, a veteran defense attorney who is not involved in Lowden's case. NBC4 asked him to share his insight into the process whereby the district attorney will sometimes "kick back" a case to detectives.
It frequently results in a later filing, Cron said. In a typical hit and run case, the suspect often posts bail and is not scheuled to appear in court for several weeks, which affords investigators time to prepare a case. The situation is different when the suspect remains jailed. Under the law, a suspect must be released after being held in custody two court days if the prosecuting agency is not ready to file.
The fact authorities released Lowden at the beginning of the second day is an indication the requested follow-up would require more than a day to complete.
A hit and run charge can be prosecuted either as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on factors that include the extent and permanence of the injuries. Waiting for medical reports could be one reason the district attorney's office sought more time, Cron speculated.
Another factor could be the issue of identification: the Hollons said they were not able to see the driver through the windshield of the vehicle, not even enough to discern between a man or a woman.
It leaves open the possibility Lowden may have let someone else drive her Nissan at the time.
Lack of direct witness identification of the driver is not necesssarily an insurmountable obstacle to prosecution, Cron said, and could be resolved through circumstantial evidence.