Emotions run high during arraignment of driver in deadly Swan Boat Club crash

'This woman crashed her car through this building destroying all of our lives,' the aunt of the victims said in court.
Posted at 10:12 AM, Apr 23, 2024

MONROE, Mich. (WXYZ) — The suspect in the deadly crash at the Swan Boat Club in Berlin Township on Saturday was arraigned Tuesday morning.

Marshella Chidester, 66, was arraigned in court on eight charges, including two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of OWI causing death and four counts of OWI causing serious injury. She was given a $1.5 million bond with conditions, including not operating a motor vehicle, substance abuse monitoring and a GPS tether.

VIDEO: Video shows vehicle right before deadly crash at Swan Boat Club

Video shows vehicle right before deadly crash into Monroe County building during birthday party

Chidester crashed into the boat club on Saturday afternoon as it was hosting a child's birthday party. According to the sheriff's office, 8-year-old Alanah Phillips and 4-year-old Zayn Phillips were pronounced dead at the scene.

During the arraignment, the prosecution asked for a $1.5 million bond and said that they have substantial evidence in the case and that the suspect had a substance abuse issue.

In arguing against the high bond, Chidester's attorney, Bill Colovos, said that Chidester has never had any traffic citations and that Chidester has a history of having seizures since last November, saying that it was an "epileptic-type seizure in her legs."

VIDEO: Watch the full arraignment of Chidester below

FULL ARRAIGNMENT: Driver arraigned in Swan Boat Club crash that killed 2 kids, injured others

"This is not a monster. It's horrible what happened, but some things we don't have control over," Colovos said when asking for a $100,000 bond with cash/surety 10%.

The arraignment was interrupted several times on Zoom by people watching, including a woman who said she was the grandmother of the children who were killed.

Raquel Smothers, the aunt of the three children also spoke during the arraignment in person saying, "We were supposed to be planning a birthday party for Zayn not a funeral."

"They walked into that birthday party having a fun time. They were sitting at that table eating and this woman crashed her car through this building destroying all of our lives," she added.

VIDEO: Hear from the aunt during the arraignment below:

Aunt of 2 kids killed in Swan Boat Club crash speaks at the arraignment of suspect

The brother of the kids' father also spoke via Zoom during the arraignment.

"My brother is in the hospital right now praying that his little boy comes through and he still gotta tell his son that he lost his sister and brother," he said.

The judge set a probable cause hearing for April 30 with a preliminary examination scheduled for May 6.

On Tuesday, Marko Law, PLLC announced a lawsuit filed against the suspected driver and Verna's Tavern following the fatal crash. A press conference will be scheduled at a later date.

An attorney representing Verna's Tavern told 7 News Detroit that the suspect was at the establishment between 11 a.m. and noon Saturday, hours before the deadly crash. He added that the woman's order was reportedly just over $7 and included a glass of wine and chili.

Attorney John McManus released the following statement on behalf of Verna's Tavern:

"We are saddened beyond words by the news of this horrible tragedy. Our most sincere thoughts and prayers go out to all those that lost their lives, their family members, witnesses and all of our Community that is in pain due to this incident. We ask for patience during the investigation and that the Justice system be allowed to work to uncover the actual facts surrounding the accident."

Video: Officials identify siblings killed in boat club crash

Officials identify siblings killed in boat club crash, release conditions of injured

Nine other people were injured in the crash and taken to area hospitals by an ambulance or a medical helicopter. As of Monday, their conditions were:

  • 31-year-old woman remains in critical condition
  • 11-year-old boy remains in critical condition
  • 18-year-old woman in serious condition
  • 16-year-old girl in serious condition
  • 14-year-old boy in serious condition
  • 70-year-old woman with minor injuries
  • 66-year-old woman with minor injuries
  • 62-year-old woman with minor injuries
  • 57-year-old woman with minor injuries

Officials say a 42-year-old man also sustained minor injuries and sought treatment on his own.

VIDEO: Watch Monroe County Sheriff Troy Goodnough provide an update after the tragedy:

2 kids dead, multiple injured after driver crashes into building during child's birthday party

Community members have been stopping by the Swan Boat Club paying their respects to the victims.

A small memorial has been set up outside the building.

The two siblings who were killed in the crash were students of Flat Rock Community Schools.

The district sent out a letter regarding the situation. Here’s some of what it said.

It is with a heavy heart that I reach out to you today following the tragic events that unfolded yesterday. A senseless accident occurred where a drunk driver crashed into Swan Creek Boat Club, resulting in the loss of two siblings who were students in our school (Early Childhood Center, Bobcean Elementary) and severe injuries of a third sibling (Simpson Middle School).

Our entire school community is reeling from this devastating news, and our hearts ache for the families and loved ones of those affected by this unimaginable tragedy. Words cannot adequately express the depth of our sorrow, nor can they ease the pain of those who are grieving. Please know that our thoughts and prayers are with every one of you during this incredibly difficult time.

In times of tragedy, it is essential that we come together as a community to support one another. Now, more than ever, we must extend our compassion and solidarity to those who need it most. As we navigate through this challenging time, let us lean on each other for strength and comfort, and let us show kindness and understanding to all who are affected by this heartbreaking loss.

When our students return to school on Monday, our counselors and social workers will be on hand to provide support and assistance to any students and families who may need it. We are committed to creating a safe and nurturing environment where everyone feels supported, heard, and valued as we begin the healing process together.
Flat Rock Community Schools

“I’m very heartbroken. I couldn’t imagine such a tragic thing to happen," Naomi Rascol, a Flat Rock resident said.

Rascol's daughter was friends with Alanah Phillips. Her daughter and Alanah both went to Bobcean Elementary in Flat Rock.

“Sometimes, I would see her coming off the bus walking home and my daughter and her would play together, and it’s just really hard," Rascol said.

If you would like to help the family pay for funeral services, you can do so at the verified GoFundMe link here.

A GoFundMe has also been set up for one of the victims in the hospital. This page is also verified.

Anyone with information regarding the incident is asked to call the Monroe County Sheriff's Office Detective Bureau at 734-240-7530.