DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - A DeKalb County woman is fighting a traffic ticket prosecutors dropped for lack of evidence but have now reopened nearly two years after her fender-bender.
A Channel 2 Action News investigation revealed the other driver from that crash asked prosecutors to reopen the case four days before filing a civil lawsuit. That driver works at the courthouse.
"I think that's insane," Shelia Brown told Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer. "You can't just go and reopen something that was dismissed just because you feel like it."
Brown was making a left turn into her neighborhood on Flakes Mill Road in January 2011 when she hit an oncoming driver.
"It was a solid green light. I went to make the turn and that's when I was blindsided by her. Without headlights, it's almost impossible to see someone coming at you," said Brown.
The crash totaled Brown's car. The responding officer cited her for failing to yield, and the other driver for failure to use headlights.
"Her truck kind of just blended in with the night because it was just so dark. Had I seen her, I would've stopped because I was in a little Hyundai Accent and she's in a huge Ford F-150. That could have killed me," said Brown.
In June 2011, a judge found the other driver, Kimberly Curry, guilty of driving without headlights.
The same month, the DeKalb Solicitor-General's office dismissed Brown's ticket, noting in court records there was insufficient evidence for prosecution.
"I was overjoyed. I thought this would just be over, and we would both get everything repaired and go our separate ways," said Brown.
But a year and a half later, in November 2012, she got another letter, telling her to appear for arraignment on the old charge. When she logged onto the court website, she saw the case was reactivated “at the victim's request.”
Court records show on Nov. 13, four days after reopening the ticket, Curry filed a personal injury lawsuit against Brown, despite an arbitrator's earlier finding that Curry was 100 percent liable for the crash.
"It's not unusual for civil lawyers to want to use the criminal case as a means of shoring up their civil case. What is unusual is for the prosecutor's office to allow it to happen," said attorney Mike Hawkins, who now represents Brown in her criminal case.
Hawkins also spent two years working in the DeKalb solicitor's office.
"I don't ever recall reinstating a traffic offense after it had been dismissed," said Hawkins.
He added, "The dismissal from the DeKalb County Solicitor's Office stated it was from insufficient evidence. I don't know what evidence could have possibly have been found over the last year and a half."
The DeKalb County Solicitor-General, Sherry Boston, declined Fleischer's request for an interview, but issued a statement saying, “It is not unusual for the Solicitor-General's Office to reopen a case. We frequently reactivate cases when new information or contact with a victim becomes available.”
Hawkins said it's unlikely Curry was that hard for investigators to find because she works in DeKalb County's probate court.
"I'm not sure how they could have lost touch with someone who works in that same courthouse," said Hawkins.
He added that it's more common for prosecutors to reactivate cases like domestic violence where, for example, where a victim might decide later to cooperate or the defendant commits another crime.
Fleischer filed an open records request to see how many traffic cases have been re-opened, but the solicitor's office said it doesn't maintain that data and refused to generate a list.
Fleischer caught up with Curry outside the courthouse as she left work last week and asked if she could provide a reason for reinstating Brown's case.
"No, I can't. Thank you," Curry replied.
When Fleischer asked Curry about the curious timing of her civil lawsuit four days after requesting the charges be reinstated, Curry entered an elevator and let the doors close without responding.
Brown's insurance company paid Curry $25,000 the same week she filed her lawsuit. The suit demands even more money, citing “potentially permanent physical injury” and “continuing pain,” though less than one month after the crash, Curry's husband posted Facebook photos of her horseback riding.
"It just seems so malicious," said Brown, who had already filed her own lawsuit in January 2012, after Curry's insurance did not fully cover Brown's medical bills.
"I went to the hospital. I ended up having to do physical therapy," Brown said.
She said she's now having to pay attorneys and waste more time in court.
"They are toying with people's lives. This is not just a simple open-and-shut case," said Brown.
Fleischer sent the solicitor's office a copy of Curry's lawsuit, and the horseback riding photos, but a representative said she could not discuss the details because the case is still pending.