RALEIGH — Sarah Aimee Carden has no recall of the reckless decision that changed so many lives early one morning seven months ago.
The 24-year-old cosmetologist remembers being at a party in Cary in June, agreeing to act as a bartender for the host, her friend, and imbibing herself.
What she cannot recollect, her attorney Bill Young says, is getting into her car after the party host urged her to not to drive, about 2 a.m. June 10, turning the key in the ignition, and eventually ending up on Interstate 440. While traveling east for miles in the westbound lanes of the Beltline around Raleigh, Carden caused a wreck that ended the life of Tshimpangil Junior Bajani, 30, and injured Adrina Angelica Moore, 25, both of Raleigh.
On Friday, she pleaded guilty in an emotionally charged Wake County Superior Court courtroom to driving while impaired, one count of felony death by vehicle, one count of hit and run resulting in serious injury or death, and one count of fleeing to elude arrest.
Judge G. Wayne Abernathy sentenced Carden to at least 25 months in prison, giving her credit for the seven months she has served in the Wake County jail since the wreck. Upon her release from prison, she will be on probation for five years, required to do 250 hours of community service, serve one more day in jail on the anniversary of the fatal wreck, and offer her life’s lessons as an example for others.
“She wants to impart to other people the insidious nature of uncontrolled drinking and drugging,” Young said. “You become not yourself.”
Carden worked with investigators to try to figure out where she went and what she did for two hours and 20 minutes after the party. Investigators checked her phone and tried to track her movements, but they couldn’t. She lived near the party, and no one knows where, how or why she got on the Beltline.
“Sadly, no one will ever know,” Young said.
Carden has cried hysterically and been very remorseful since causing the early-morning wreck that claimed the life of Bajani, a native of Congo who was attending Wake Technical Community College.
Bajani’s family offered statements in court Friday, words translated into French for family who had immigrated here from the African country about nine years ago.
His father said Bajani did not come to the United States alone, opting to stay in the Congo, helping to keep the family together, until they could all get to this country. That journey included a stop in Cameroon.
Once here, Bajani had ambitions to travel again as a diplomat, and he hoped his studies at Wake Tech could help him realize that dream.
Moore received severe lacerations to her legs as the Chevrolet that Bajani was driving ping-ponged from one side of the Beltline to the other, eventually toppling down a hill.
She was at the hearing Friday with her family and a statement about how her life has changed since the fatal wreck.
“These cases are really, really tough, especially when it’s involving an innocent victim really doing nothing wrong,” said Jason Waller, the Wake County assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case.
Carden, according to her attorney, chose to stay in the Wake County jail for the past seven months instead of seeking bail “to honor the life” of the victim.
Tests showed she had a blood alcohol content of .15, nearly twice the legal limit under North Carolina law. There were traces of cocaine and marijuana in her blood, though her attorney said she did not remember smoking marijuana that night.
Carden, her attorney said, was an honor student at a prestigious Vermont boarding school in high school. Family and friends describe her as a young woman who was “vibrant, smart and sweet.”
Her court file contains letters from friends who described her as a role model, especially on financial issues.
Now her family and friends hope she will impart a different lesson – a tough one that will show them how wrong a path she took in the wee hours of one June morning.