Katie Woodworth's car after the May 2015 accident. courtesy Woodworth family
By Jason Emerson
On Oct. 19, it had been 517 days since Cazenovia resident Katie Woodworth was in a car accident on Route 20 that nearly killed her and has left her suffering severe physical and psychological pain every day. And in that 517 days, the woman who caused the accident, Gillian Morgan, was not in jail and had not been prosecuted.
After two skipped court appearances and two bench warrants issued for her arrest, Morgan, 26, of Morris, yesterday admitted her guilt in Cazenovia Village Court, pleaded guilty to a charge of reckless driving and received a sentence of 30 days in jail and a $300 fine.
“You’re very lucky to get 30 days for something that will affect Katie for the rest of her life; you’re lucky she’s not dead,” said Jan Woodworth, Katie’s mother, who was allowed by the court to speak during Morgan’s hearing. “I’m not sure Katie has forgiven you, but I have. I hope you take responsibility and get your life together. Your child deserves his mom to be there for him.”
“She’s very lucky the most I can give her is 30 days,” Cazenovia Village Justice Timothy Moore said to Morgan’s public defender, Gerald D. Raymond, during court on Oct. 19. “I’m generally a very forgiving person, but not in this case.”
The accident occurred on May 21, 2015, when Katie Woodworth, 23 at the time, was driving east on Route 20 on her way to work at Marquardt Switches. According to police, Morgan’s car, coming west, crossed three lanes of traffic and hit Woodworth’s 1999 Subaru Legacy wagon head-on. Law enforcement estimated the force of the impact was the equivalent of 100 miles per hour.
The entire front end of Woodworth’s car was crushed; she was pinned inside it took rescuers 45 minutes and the Jaws of Life to extricate her; after which she was airlifted to the hospital. She never lost consciousness during the entire rescue, during which she heard first responders say they expected it to be a fatality when they got her out. Jan Woodworth said if Katie was a larger person she would not have survived the crash.
Woodworth did survive, but suffered broken feet, broken hands, a broken neck and numerous instances of tissue damage. He left wrist was completely crushed and had to be reconstructed, and now she has only 50 percent use of it. One of her feet was so shattered that she has had surgeries, physical therapy and will have a limp for the rest of her life. It causes her daily pain.
Morgan suffered a broken collar bone but no other injuries.
According to Cazenovia Police Chief Michael Hayes, Morgan refused to speak to police at the scene and refused to have her blood drawn for testing both at the scene and at the hospital. He ultimately got a court order to draw her blood.
Morgan was charged at the time with reckless driving, unsafe lane change, driving in the center lane and failure to keep right. Her blood was also sent to the lab to be tested for drugs or alcohol.
“The scene was a mess,” Hayes said. “There’s no rational reason I can see other than that [Morgan] fell asleep or was under the influence to cross three lanes of traffic and hit somebody head-on.”
The subsequent investigation and accident reconstruction led police to suspect that the accident was the result of DWI. However, despite Hayes’s request that doctors not to give Morgan any narcotic pain killers until his warrant arrived so they could draw blood for the toxicology test, hospital personnel gave Morgan morphine, which negated the admissibility of the blood test.
“We had a key piece of evidence taken from us to either prove or disprove our theory,” Hayes said. “Had we gotten her blood before the hospital tainted it we could have said either way what had happened,” Hayes said. “And if we were correct in our theory she would have been charged with DWI and vehicular assault.”
Madison County District Attorney Bill Gabor said the blood test results he received showed only morphine in Morgan’s blood.
“I don’t have a good explanation for what caused the accident,” Gabor said. “With those facts, the most serious charge was reckless driving — an unclassified vehicle and traffic misdemeanor that carries with it only a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail and/or one year of probation.”
Morgan was arrested two months later, in July, a delay caused by waiting for the results of the blood tests. The case was then adjourned because Morgan said she was going to seek drug treatment and a consensus decision between the DA’s office, the defense and the court that, because Morgan had a history of drug use, it would be in the interests of justice to allow her to show proof she was addressing those drug issues, Gabor said.
Morgan spent the winter of 2015-16 in Florida — where she posted pictures of herself sitting on the beach on her Facebook page, Justice Moore said during the Oct. 19 hearing — supposedly in treatment but no proof of treatment was ever received by the DA’s office, said Assistant DA Paul Deep. After more adjournments, Morgan was scheduled to appear in Cazenovia Village Court in May 2016, but she did not show. A bench warrant was issued for her arrest.
Morgan appeared in court on Aug. 3, and the bench warrant was vacated, but then again failed to appear in court on Sept. 21, and a second bench warrant was issued for her arrest.
On Oct. 11, Morgan was arrested by New Hartford Police and charged with falsifying business records in the first degree, criminal possession of stolen property in the fifth degree and petit larceny. She was remanded to Oneida County Jail. Upon her release two days later, she was immediately arrested by Cazenovia police on a bench warrant for failure to appear in Cazenovia Village Court. She was arraigned in village court and remanded to Madison County Jail on Oct. 13; her bail was set at $7,500 cash or bond.
During the Oct. 19 hearing in Cazenovia Village Court, Morgan’s attorney said he was looking for a plea deal since his client faces charges in Oneida County and she wanted to attend a nine-month drug treatment outpatient program. Deep said Morgan could attend treatment either before or after she serves the maximum jail sentence in this case. “We want the maximum time. This is our strong position,” Deep said, stating that his office was repeatedly lied to by Morgan and she had twice failed to appear in court.
Morgan ultimately plead guilty to the charge of reckless driving, for which Justice Moore gave her the maximum sentence of 30 days in jail and a $300 fine.
After the hearing had ended, Jan and Mark Woodworth, Katie’s parents, said they were glad this case was finally resolved after such a long haul. They said they believe Katie will be relieved “to a certain degree,” and that they are all ready to move on.
“These guys — the police department, fire department, DA’s office, CAVAC, Judge Moore — are all so awesome. They have gone above and beyond and been nothing but supportive,” Jan said. “One good thing out of all this is that I appreciate, understand and value what all our public servants have done.”
“And this confirms that we have a wonderful community that we live in,” Mark added.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.