County to prosecute first feticide case

LAWRENCEVILLE - If Lydia had survived, she would have been born in September.

She would have had two older sisters to look after her and a doting mother and father to shepherd her into adulthood.

But after 22 weeks in her mother's womb, the unborn child's life ended. Prosecutors allege a drugged driver collided with a car driven by her mother, Stacy Pagomenakis, on April 20, 2005, breaking Pagomenakis' pelvis in four places and rupturing her spleen and uterus.

Lydia died within hours.

Last week, a Gwinnett grand jury indicted Nick Adam Giovanni, making him the first person to be prosecuted for vehicular feticide in the county. He was charged with first-degree vehicular feticide, reckless driving, driving under the influence of drugs and four counts of serious injury by vehicle.

Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said it will be the first vehicular feticide case his office has handled since the state law was enacted in 1981 making it a crime to cause a motor vehicle accident that kills a viable unborn child.

"I am not aware that we've ever used it before," Porter said. "It is basically like prosecuting a vehicular homicide, it is just that the elements are that its a fetus instead of a person. It has to be a 'quickened' fetus, with movement within the womb."

Feticide by vehicle carries the same penalty as vehicular homicide - two to 15 years in prison.

Pagomenakis said she blacked out for a few minutes after the accident, but she remembers much of what occurred that day.

It was 11 a.m. on a Wednesday, and she was driving to meet a friend at the Mall of Georgia in Buford from an aerobics class at Ivy Creek Church in Lawrenceville. Pagomenakis' 6-month-old daughter, Sophia, was buckled securely into a car seat in the back of her Jeep Cherokee.

Traveling north on Prospect Road in Lawrenceville, Pagomenakis said she looked up and saw a white Chevrolet S-10 as she approached the intersection with Ridge Road. Seconds later, the driver of the Chevrolet allegedly ran the stop sign and slammed broadside into the driver's side door of her Jeep.

The Jeep spun, careened off the road and came to rest in an adjacent field.

The impact pushed Pagomenakis almost all the way over into the passenger seat, but it did not harm her 6-month-old daughter.

"I wake up, and it's a loud buzzing noise and I'm in a field and the baby is in the back seat crying," Pagomenakis recalled.

Several passing motorists stopped to help, including several women from the church aerobics class and a park ranger who was driving behind Giovanni. The park ranger had called 911 minutes before the wreck to report that Giovanni's vehicle was weaving erratically all over the road, Pagomenakis said.

Pagomenakis has only a brief recollection of Giovanni at the accident scene.

"He was standing there leaning against his truck smoking a cigarette," Pagomenakis said. "He was just standing there like he was just calm."

Giovanni was also bleeding from a head wound, Pagomenakis recalled.

Police later learned through blood and urine testing that Giovanni was driving under the influence of six prescription drugs, including two forms of amphetamine and several strong painkillers. He also had been arrested once before in Gwinnett County in 2001 for loitering and possessing less than an ounce of marijuana.

When Pagomenakis arrived at the hospital, it appeared that the baby's condition was stable. But an hour later, things started going downhill. Doctors at the hospital reported the grim news about the wreck's effect on her unborn child.

"It was comparative to shaken baby syndrome," Pagomenakis said. "[The wreck] was too traumatic and too rough for the baby to survive." Lydia was delivered stillborn by C-section. Pagomenakis remained in the hospital for five days for treatment of her broken pelvis, ruptured spleen and uterus. She has a scar down her abdomen.

She is still dealing with the emotional aftermath as well.

Pagomenakis and her husband will probably not try to get pregnant again because losing Lydia was so traumatic. And although she said she harbors no anger against Giovanni, Pagomenakis wants him to be punished.

"It is not like we are screaming and going 'you need to go to jail and spend the rest of your life in jail,'" Pagomenakis said. "We want him to know what he did and that there was a consequence to his stupidity."

Giovanni could not be reached for comment on Tuesday afternoon. His mother, Sue Giovanni, said he was unaware that a vehicular feticide charge had been filed against him. She said there is an explanation for her son's erratic driving on that day - he has a history of epilepsy, and he was taking the prescription drugs for a severe back injury.

Asked why he was driving while taking the drugs, Sue Giovanni said her son had to get to school. Four weeks after the accident, Giovanni suffered a grand mal seizure, she said, and Sue Giovanni theorized he may have had a seizure while driving the car on Ridge Road.

Giovanni was released from the Gwinnett County Detention Center the day after the accident on $12,476 bond, according to jail records. No trial date has been set in the case, prosecutors said.