Tracey Jones couldn’t resist the bitter irony.
On Thursday, the sobbing Charlotte mother stood in front of a Mecklenburg courtroom, no more than 30 feet away from Sabrina Burdea, her daughter Marcia’s best friend. Last December, according to authorities, Burdea stormed away from police in a stolen car before wrecking a short time later, a crash that killed Marcia Lawton.
Jones told Superior Court Judge Bob Bell that Thursday was Burdea’s 19th birthday. Marcia was 18 when she died.
“She gets to celebrate it after she took my daughter’s life,” Jones told the judge as the shackled Burdea looked straight ahead.
Under a plea agreement with prosecutors, Burdea will serve 10 months in the Mecklenburg jail. As part of the deal, the Mecklenburg District Attorney’s Office dropped charges of involuntary manslaughter and other offenses. She received a suspended sentence of 25-42 months for charges that included felony aggravated flight from police. Her 30 months of probation included the required jail stay. Burdea is banned during her probation from driving a car. She must wear an ankle monitor for six months and earn a GED within a year and a half.
According to court records, none of Burdea’s past arrests have so far led to convictions that would have influenced the severity of her sentence.
‘My life … will never be the same’
During her emotional remarks to the judge, Jones said she was not satisfied.
“My daughter’s skull was cracked,” she said through tears. “My life and my family’s life will never be the same. Knowing that my daughter’s killer is only getting a few months is sucking the life out of us.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Bell said at one point.
Burdea has been arrested at least eight times in the last 20 months, including another car theft charge that was still pending on the night Marcia Lawton died. She came into the courtroom heavily shackled, forcing her to bend double to sign the plea documents. She placed her hand on the Bible and swore to tell the truth only with the help of her attorney.
Burdea did not speak other than to answer Bell’s question in a soft, girlish voice. Nor did she appear to look across the aisle to the loved ones of her dead friend.
Defense attorney Michael Elliot of Charlotte, however, expressed remorse to Jones and her family.
“Miss Burdea is sorry for what happened. She loved Marcia, and she wants Marcia’s family to know that she loved Marcia,” he said.
A friend’s advice: Run
On Dec. 14, an automatic license tag reader picked up the plate of a stolen car on inbound Sugar Creek Road. Assistant District Attorney Bill Bunting said Burdea was at the wheel. Lawton was in the front seat with her. A 15-year-old juvenile was riding in the back.
Police tried to pull the Ford Fusion over at Atando Avenue and Interstate 77. Jones told the judge that Marcia and the other girl told Burdea to pull over. Burdea, according to the mother, called a male friend to ask what she should do.
The man told her to run, Jones said.
Within seconds Burdea was traveling 106 mph north on I-77, even though police did not chase her, Bunting said. Less than a mile from where her sprint began, Burdea lost control of the wheel as she tried to merge onto I-85.
Bunting said the car’s airbags deployed when the Ford was still traveling at 91 mph. The car plowed into some woods and struck several trees. The 15-year-old was thrown from the car. Lawton, who was wearing a seat belt, died at the scene. Burdea’s dash lasted less than a minute.
When police arrived, according to Bunting, Burdea was trying to crawl out of the driver’s seat into the rear of the car.
She told officers that someone else had been at the wheel.