LAWRENCEVILLE — Ruth Aneni Escobar has been charged with vehicular homicide, accused of hitting and killing an 85-year-old pedestrian as he crossed Kings Ridge Drive. Phone records, the initial police investigation and at least one witness point to the 50-year-old Norcross woman as a prime suspect.
On Thursday, her sister took the stand — and the blame.
During a preliminary hearing at the Gwinnett County jail, Esther Escobar-Gomez took the stand at the request of her sister’s defense attorneys, Bill Kitchens and Glenn Cooper. An interpreter was sworn in and Kitchens began asking questions.
The answer came once, quietly and before a soon-to-be-stunned courtroom caught on, then again.
“So you’re admitting to this court, to this prosecutor, to everyone in this courtroom,” Kitchens asked, “that you’re the one that was involved in that accident, right?”
Judge Angela D. Duncan, wary of Escobar-Gomez’s lack of her own attorney and aware of her Fifth Amendment rights, tried to warn the woman against answering.
It was too late. No translation was needed.
“Si,” Escobar-Gomez said.
She then proceeded to plead the fifth and answer no further questions. The hearing was suspended until May 22.
“Based on the evidence that appears to be forthcoming,” Duncan said, “I think it’s in the best interest of all the parties to suspend this hearing. I’m going to continue it to … give (Escobar-Gomez) an opportunity to get an attorney, as well as to give the state and (Escobar’s) attorneys the opportunity to further investigate this matter.”
Prior to all that, Gwinnett County police Investigator Timothy Corradino offered in-depth testimony into the events of April 13. He said that 85-year-old Kanaiyalal Patel was walking along Norcross’ Singleton Road and had taken just a step or two onto Kings Ridge Drive when a maroon 1999 Ford F-150 drove through a stop sign and hit him.
A woman driving down Singleton Road witnessed the accident and stopped to try and help Patel, Corradino testified.
As another witness pulled up, the first woman pointed to the pickup truck — stopped a few feet down the road — and told him to follow it. The second witness did so as his 14-year-old son shot video of the license plate.
Both initial witnesses identified the driver only as an Hispanic woman, though police said the 14-year-old later identified Escobar specifically.
The license plate returned to a man named Joel Escobar, later identified as Ruth Escobar’s nephew and the son of Esther Escobar-Gomez. Cellphone records reportedly showed that, over a short time frame immediately following the incident, Ruth Escobar made about 20 calls.
In that same time period, Joel Escobar called 911 to report his truck stolen from a nearby Kroger parking lot. In the 911 call, Escobar allegedly told the operator that he had run into the grocery store and come out to find his vehicle gone. Corradino said the man later told him that the truck was stolen after he met his wife at the store and rode with her to an anniversary dinner in Roswell, then that he was never at Kroger at all.
In her own interview after being detained, Ruth Escobar claimed that she had been with her husband during the time of the incident.
“She asked why she needed a lawyer if she didn’t do anything,” Carradino said.
Ruth Escobar was ultimately charged with vehicular homicide, hit and run, failure to obey a stop sign and driving without a valid license. She’s remained in the Gwinnett County jail without bond since her arrest.
Her sister’s appearance at Thursday’s hearing came as a surprise to everyone but the defense and several family members gathered in the courtroom.
“In interviewing the family, they said that our client was not driving,” Kitchens said. “And I won’t go too deep into it, but I was somewhat dubious of this other party that we heard about and I started challenging them on it — well, show me proof that this person exists.”
“They did better than that,” the attorney continued. “They flew her back from California, where she had flown out to to avoid this matter. She came into our office and she gave us a statement.”
As of Thursday’s hearing, Escobar-Gomez was not believed to have hired an attorney and had not been charged with any crime. She and several family members declined to speak with media members.
A police spokesman declined to comment on the investigation Thursday, citing a lack of familiarity with the afternoon’s developments.