A 23-year-old South Carolina woman pleaded guilty Thursday to second-degree murder and other charges stemming from an alcohol-fueled crash that killed a 79-year-old woman in Charlotte last summer.
Kelly Ann Conkin was sentenced to 12 to 15 years in prison. She was charged after driving her Hyundai Elantra across a median on South Tryon Street and slamming into a Toyota Camry in the early hours of Aug. 20. The collision killed Cecelia Buitrago de Gonzalez, who was a passenger in the Toyota.
Conkin, of Clover, S.C., had two prior DUI convictions at the time of the wreck. One case took place in Mecklenburg County in 2013, when police said she was driving with a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.13 in a single-car crash near last year’s fatal collision. She was convicted for the incident in July 2014.
In 2014, she also pleaded guilty in South Carolina for driving under the influence of alcohol. Prosecutors said Thursday at the hearing that Conkin had also been cited for neglect and reckless driving in a wreck in 2012.
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She had a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.21 in the fatal crash, which is more than double the legal threshold of 0.08.
“Based on your record, it appears you think driving drunk is cool. It’s not,” said Don Griffin, husband of one Gonzalez’s children. “And now it’s caught up with you.”
Griffin stood in the courtroom Thursday and condemned Conkin’s actions as selfish while his wife, Claudia Griffin, stood at his side holding up a picture of her mother for Conkin to see.
Family members described Gonzalez as a loving person who had eight children and 11 grandchildren, with an additional grandchild on the way at the time of her death.
Gonzalez was from Bogota, Colombia, and was visiting her daughter Sonia Rocio Gonzalez at the time of the crash. Family said she attended Catholic mass every day and led a group of women in charity work, and would provide clothing and food to the poor. She and a group of women once gave Christmas gifts to an orphanage, family members said.
“Even you, Kelly, would’ve liked her if you met her,” Griffin told Conkin.
Sonia Rocio Gonzalez, who was in the car with her husband and daughter, fought back tears as she told Conkin how the incident had devastated the family.
“Why did this have to happen?” she asked Conkin. “Why did you do this to us? Why did you do this to yourself?”
Conkin tearfully apologized to the family and said she prays for forgiveness. “Knowing that I’m the reason so many are suffering, because of me, is sad,” she said.
LaVendrick Smith; 704-358-5101; @LaVendrickS