Lewiston woman who ran over student goes to jail

AUBURN — A Lewiston woman who drove onto a walking path at Lewiston High School where she knocked down and ran over a student a year and a half ago was sentenced Wednesday to 10 days in jail.

Bilow Farah pleads moments before trial
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Bilow Farah agreed to a plea deal Wednesday morning before her trial began in Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn.

Bilow Farah pleads moments before trial
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Bilow Farah, left, agreed to a plea deal Wednesday morning before her trial began in Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn. Listening to Justice Roland Cole with Farah is her interpreter, Ahmed Isse, middle, and her attorney, Jeffrey Dolley.

Bilow Farah, 34, of 10 Knox St. was led in handcuffs Wednesday morning to Androscoggin County Jail after she pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of driving to endanger and driving without a license. She agreed to the plea the morning her bench trial was scheduled to start. As a result, a felony charge was dismissed, lessening the likelihood that her immigration status would be jeopardized.

An earlier plea agreement hammered out last spring between prosecutors and Farah had been rejected by the court as too lenient.

Speaking through an interpreter, Farah, who is Somali, apologized in Androscoggin County Superior Court on Wednesday to the victim, Kelsey Cope-Norris, who was 17 years old on Jan. 14, 2010, the day of the accident.

"I cannot say how sorry I am," said Ahmed Isse, of Portland, who translated for Farah. "I didn't do this intentionally."

The mother of six children said she regarded Cope-Norris as one of her own children. The injured student had been high school friends with one of Farah's sons.

Farah was driving a white SUV Mercedes at 7:30 a.m. and had parked in front of the school where she had dropped off her four sons. As she started to leave, her vehicle ran up onto a curb and she drove down a walking path where Cope-Norris was making her way to school on foot.

After striking and running over Cope-Norris, breaking bones, Farah's vehicle struck seven parked cars before coming to a stop, police said.

Jeffrey Dolley, Farah's court-appointed attorney, told Justice Roland Cole on Wednesday that Farah had become confused because traffic patterns at the high school recently had been changed. She lost control of her vehicle and stepped on the gas pedal when she meant to step on the brake pedal, Dolley said.

"This was an accident, an unfortunate accident," Dolley said.

Farah, who came to the United States in 2006, had no recorded criminal history, Dolley said. She had lived in a refuge camp in Kenya for more than a decade before that, he said. She's a single mother on a fixed income.

In sentencing her to 10 days in jail for driving to endanger, Cole fined Farah $575. He fined her an additional $100 on the charge of operating without a license. She agreed to pay $50 a month toward the fines and fees she owes. Her license, which was issued to her after the accident, was suspended Wednesday for 180 days.

It was the latter charge that Cole said was most serious. "This is an unusual case," he said. Farah's decision to drive without a license is what led to a situation in which her inexperience put other people in harm's way, he said.

Assistant District Attorney Patricia Reynolds Regan was seeking a jail sentence of 30 days, leaving Farah free to argue for less jail time. Regan showed the judge video footage of the accident captured by a school surveillance camera.

Cope-Norris told the judge she saw Farah bearing down on her and tried to escape. That experience has left her physically and emotionally scarred, she said.

She wasn't able to sit for months after the accident, having undergone emergency surgery on her back and buttocks. She missed classes and exams and fell behind in school where she had been in the top 5 percent of her class before the accident. She had to drop out of classes she'd enrolled in at the University of Southern Maine and she had to give up an opportunity to work at a hospice house.

She still has numbness in her left leg and foot that may never improve.

When she crosses streets, Cope-Norris suffers anxiety attacks, she said. Although she knows it's supposed to be safe if she is crossing in a crosswalk with a red light, she no longer trusts motorists will obey the law, she said.

"Something bad can happen at any time," she told the judge.

Her mother, Evelyn Taylor, also spoke at the sentencing.

She said her daughter's ordeal has taken a lasting toll on her family. When she was summoned to the Lewiston hospital where Cope-Norris had been taken by ambulance, Taylor didn't know whether her daughter was alive or dead.

"My heart dropped, the tears started to flow," she said, clutching her daughter's hand as she read her prepared statement.

Were it not for a nearby snowbank, Cope-Norris might not have survived, her mother said.

"I thank God for snow," she said. "It is what saved my daughter."

She said she and her daughter urged the judge to sentence Farah to spend some time in jail.

cwilliams@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Naran Row-Spaulding's picture

"Farah, who came to the

"Farah, who came to the United States in 2006, had no recorded criminal history, Dolley said. She had lived in a refuge camp in Kenya for more than a decade before that, he said. She's a single mother on a fixed income."

**********

Kudos to her for all she's had to overcome. I'd just like to know where the 2000 Mercedes SUV came from. As someone living on a very fixed income, that is not the kind of vehicle I'm driving!!!

Also, why not get a license, and do as she should have, in the country supporting her family?

Nan Gagnon's picture

is someone else missing this?

The sun journal ran a nice one side article on this woman during the Lewiston High School Gradutation time - trying to pass her off as the next mother of the year - www.sunjournal.com/city/story/1044493

Robert Hack Jr.'s picture

Justice for only the selcted

If that had been anyone else (native mainer) it would have been 15 years or more so justice has been searved but only for the select few who don't have a J.O.B sponge off the rest of us TAX PAYERS, and drive a FREE NEW CAR now thats the way to go right????????????

JUDY MEYER's picture
staff

Class E crime

I hope you don't mind a little clarification here, based on Maine law.
The defendant pleaded to Class E misdemeanor crimes, and the maximum penalties for that class of crime is 6 months in jail and $1,000 in fines. There is no scenario under which anyone -- immigrant or native -- would have gone to jail for "15 years or more." In cases where the defendant has no prior criminal record, it is exceptionally rare for the court to impose maximum penalties, no matter who they are.

GARY SAVARD's picture

Oops! I meant "hole card"

Oops! I meant "hole card"

GARY SAVARD's picture

Public perceptions being what

Public perceptions being what they are, incidents like this do not go very far in helping the Somalis assimilate into the community. Even the court system walks on eggshells so as not to appear discriminatory, and that just affirms the value of the whole card these folks are so adept at playing.

Lori StHilaire's picture

Hit and Run

Where is the justice for the victim and everything she had to go through ? I can't believe Farah only got 10 days in jail for almost killing someone. How could anyone in their right mind come to a plea agreement.Even the judge who saw the "accident " on tape thought she should of gotten more jail time. The girl she ran over is still trying to deal with this nightmare. Its going to take a long time , if ever, to forget the image of the vehicle coming at her. Thank God for snow, as it saved her life.

Shane Morin's picture

Did I miss something?

Wait.. did I miss something? Do we know what kind of a car this is? All I know from this and prior stories is that it's a Mercedes SUV. I didn't get a year.. I didn't see them explain how it was paid for. You guys are making assumptions based on one word. The word "Mercedes" comes with the vision of luxury because of its reputation, but the reality is there are a lot of used Mercedes SUVs on the market for less than $10,000. It takes about 5 seconds of searching the internet to find that. Couple that with the fact that many Somalis share vehicles across families, and unless you have proof, you have no grounds for the assumptions you're making.

This woman obviously had no business driving that car when she was.. you have plenty of ground to make character judgments about her based on what she did. Why make assumptions on something you don't have nearly enough knowledge of to do so (if someone can provide me with the year of the Mercedes and evidence on how it was paid for, I'll gladly apologize)?

JUDY MEYER's picture
staff

Mercedes

According to the original police report, the vehicle was a 2000 Mercedes registered to Farah.

Driving

Alot of these people shouldn't be driving...They don't have clue...

John Clement's picture

single mother on a fixed

single mother on a fixed income driving a Mercedes? how does that happen? oh yeah I paid for it.

Mercedes

It is called welfare...

John Cote's picture

pay $50 a month

you mean the tax payers will pay for it through the welfare system

John Cote's picture

should make her.....

should also make her pay ther medicial expenses as well and how can u get a driver license is you can't read the sings printed in english and so forth?

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