Driver convicted of misdemeanor for high-speed Minneapolis crash that killed friend

A judge has acquitted a motorist of the most serious charges and convicted her of a misdemeanor for driving more than 65 miles per hour on a residential street in Minneapolis and causing a crash that killed one of her passengers and left her a paraplegic.

Markesha W. Jones, 20, of Brooklyn Center, was acquitted by Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill on felony counts of criminal vehicular homicide and criminal vehicular operation in connection with the crash on March 11, 2021, near the intersection of N. 37th and Fremont avenues.

Daviegh J.K. Lee, 15, of Minneapolis, died five days later at North Memorial Health Hospital. His brother, Day'shawn Lee, also was in the car, survived the crash and is now 16 years old.

In acquitting Jones on the felony counts, Cahill found that the prosecution failed to meet the standard that Jones was driving in a grossly negligent manner and chose instead to convict Jones of careless driving.

Jones, who was 18 years old at the time, "operated a motor vehicle upon a public street carelessly and in a negligent manner, endangering herself and her passengers," Cahill concluded in his ruling filed on March 4. "The driving behavior, while negligent, was not grossly negligent." Cahill did not elaborate on how the circumstances of the crash failed to rise to gross negligence.

The County Attorney's Office took strong exception to the acquittals on the felony charges.

"Driving full-throttle, three times the speed limit, and passing another moving vehicle while going the wrong way on a two-lane residential road is extraordinarily dangerous driving conduct that has no place on our roads," said office spokesman Nick Kimball. "We will continue to prosecute and seek accountability for those who drive like this and cause immeasurable pain and suffering."

Tamika Lee said Thursday her surviving son "still can't remember a lot" from day to day and only recalls "bits and pieces" about the crash.

"I feel disgusted," Tamika Lee said about the verdicts and the prospect that Jones will not serve any time in jail or prison. "If she was driving the correct speed, none of this would have happened."

Cahill's order reviewed numerous details about the crash that were agreed upon by the prosecution and the defense. His synopsis was based on police interviews with witnesses and Jones, vehicle diagnostic evidence, police reports and crash scene photos and video:

Jones was driving north on Fremont at 66 to 73 mph in a 25 mph zone and decided to pass a much slower vehicle. She crossed into the southbound lane, and "hit a curb and an embankment, flipping the car roof-first into a nearby building." Her car was traveling 49 mph at the time of impact with the building.

The judge's ruling did not mention the state Department of Public Safety's disclosure that Jones was behind the wheel with no driver's permit or license.

Defense attorney Samuel Savage said Thursday that "the law in this area was pretty squarely in my favor, but you never know what a judge is going to do. ... She was completely sober, and the car wasn't stolen. Sometimes an accident is just an accident."

Jones has been paralyzed from the chest down since the crash and requires help daily from a personal care assistant.

Savage said he is confident that her condition bore no influence on Cahill passing up convictions on the felonies.

"It might be different for some other judges," the attorney said, "but I think Judge Cahill applies the law as it is. ... I don't think he took the personal aspects into account."

Jones and the Lee brothers "were actually really good friends," Savage said. "She would see them every day."

He said the brother who survived has reached out to Jones "a couple of times. He understands that this was an accident."

Sentencing for Jones is scheduled for May 15, with the maximum punishment being 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Savage declined to say what sentence he will seek from Cahill, but pointed out that "Markesha feels terrible ... and she takes responsibility."