Message From Md. Girl, 12, Delivered as Driver Sentenced in Death of Her Sister

Jazimen Warr died in August 2008 after a hit-and-run driver slammed into the vehicle that was carrying her family. The driver was sentenced Thursday. Jazimen helped to make this video to encourage William, her grandfather, to eat more oatmeal. Video by Video Courtesy of William Warr
By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 31, 2009

Last summer, 12-year-old Cortavia Harris spent her days playing with Jazimen, the kid sister. They were so close that they promised to live within a block of each other for the rest of their lives.

On Thursday, Cortavia found herself in a Dodge Durango, passing the exact spot on Interstate 270 where Jazimen was crushed to death last August by a hit-and-run driver. Cortavia was heading to a sentencing hearing for the driver, who had plowed into the family Jeep at between 88 and 98 mph while Jazimen, then 10, slept with her head on Cortavia's shoulder in the back seat. The man, who had been drinking, abandoned his car, fled to a nearby hotel and waited more than 12 hours to turn himself in.

Cortavia had written a note to the driver in advance of the hearing to be read in Montgomery County Circuit Court: "You deserve whatever you get," Cortavia wrote to Michael Eaton of Fairfax. "It probably won't be a lot, but I will live through it."

The sentencing hearing has become a ritual for surviving crime victims. The hearings are as varied as they are tragic. In Cortavia's case, she lost a sister and found out what happened when she awoke in a hospital bed with a fractured pelvis, according to Cortavia and her family.

The hearings can help survivors move on. But as four hours spent with Cortavia on Thursday shows, there are limits to what the hearings can do for them.

"I will never forgive the man," Cortavia said yesterday after watching Eaton led off in handcuffs to serve an eight-year prison sentence for vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident. Eaton -- who has previous convictions for drunk driving, reckless driving, selling marijuana and speeding -- could be eligible for parole after serving less than four years, prosecutors said.

Minutes before, his voice shaking, Eaton spoke to Judge David A. Boynton, at times looking at Cortavia and her family.

"I've taken the life of a child," said Eaton, who pleaded guilty. "I'd do anything to bring that back."

He said he had quit drinking and wanted to help others avoid making similar mistakes. "This has changed my life and given me a purpose," he said.

Cortavia's journey to the courtroom began shortly before 1 p.m. yesterday at her home in Frederick County, where she lives with William and Angela Warr. William was Jazimen's grandfather, and the Warrs are raising Cortavia.

The three headed south on I-270. Cortavia busied herself in the back seat sending text messages to relatives. One of them wanted to know what grade she was about to enter.

"Ninth," announced the rising seventh grader.

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