Christine Ann Broady, 18, and her mother, Mrs. William Broady, were standing in the Manassas Park social services office recently when they noticed a flier calling for information about the hit-and-run death of a 10-year-old Vietnamese refugee.
"Whoever did that ought to be put in jail for a long time," Mrs. Broady said, according to a police account of the conversation.
Her daughter turned and gave her a long look. "Even if it was me, mom?" she reportedly asked.
Manassas Park police Wednesday arrested Christine Broady, of 112 Colfax Court in Manassas Park, accusing her of being the driver of a van that struck Tran Le Hoa last Feb. 7, then left the scene of the accident.
Eyewitnesses, including Hoa's mother and a group of the girl's classmates, said Hoa was struck again moments later by another car on heavily traveled Lomond Drive in Manassas. Hoa was pronounced dead 20 minutes later.
Broady was arraigned yesterday on one felony count of hit-and-run driving, for which she could receive a maximum of five years in prison. She is being held in Prince William County Jail under $5,000 bond.
According to police spokesmen, Broady was arrested after she spoke of her alleged involvement in the accident to a friend, part-time county social worker Cathy Ertz, and consented to allow Ertz to call the police.
"I think she just wanted to cleanse her soul, and that was a good place to start," said Manassas Park Police Chief Tom Stone, who rushed to Ertz's home with county investigators Wednesday evening to hear Borady tell her story.
According to Prince William County police investigator David C. Mabie, Broady told them she had been driving her blue 1967 Chevrolet van to an evening class at the Manassas campus of Northern Virginia Community College when she felt a bump.
"She saw papers fly up, heard a scream, and thought she had hit a dog or something. But she continued on because she did not want to be late for class," Mabie said.
Broady did not realize what had happened until the following day, police said, when she read an account of the accident in a local newspaper.
Mabie said it is probable that Broady did not see the Vietnamese girl dart into the busy street after her younger brother in the winter darkness.
"We have no evidence of negligence in driving," Mabie said. "Had the girl (Broady) stopped at the time, there would have been no charges pressed."
Tran Le Hoa, remembered by friends as an intelligent girl with shoulder-length black hair, was forced to flee the Vietnamese port city of Haiphong with her family last year. Since November, the family has lived in Manassas, where Hoa's father, 43-year-old Tran Trung Bac, works as an electrician.
Police said they still have no clues to the identity of the driver of the second vehicle, which witnesses described as a dark-colored compact car. They said the car hit Hoa as she was attempting to crawl back to the curb and dragged her body 50 feet. An investigation is continuing.
According to police, Broady gave no reason why she had waited more than two months to contact police. "She was very calm and exact in her statements," said Stone. "It seemed like she just wanted to tell her story. She laid it out piece by piece."
A preliminary hearing in the case is set for May 13.