Deliberations to begin in fatal Hanover hit-and-run of 4-year-old Dakota Wright
First assistant district attorney Tim Barker told jurors they have all the proof they need to convict Tony Shower Jr. of felony hit-and-run for fleeing after causing the death of 4-year-old Dakota Wright on a Hanover street three years ago.
Mitochondrial DNA — which is DNA passed through maternal lineage — from either Dakota or one of her relatives was found on the white utility van owned by a man named Stephen Gambal III.
That DNA match was made after investigators found and collected several blond hairs embedded in the van's driver-side headlight assembly, according to trial testimony.
Jurors are expected to begin deliberations Friday, Nov. 22, after being instructed on the law by presiding Common Pleas Judge Michael E. Bortner.
Barker reminded jurors during closing arguments on Thursday, Nov. 21, that the zipper pull on Dakota's brightly colored My Little Pony jacket left scratches on the van's front bumper.
He also argued evidence showed her jacket left a clothing transfer on one of the van's tie rods.
Both Gambal and, eventually, Shower confessed to Hanover Police that they drove to Baltimore and back more than once on the day of the fatal hit-and-run, smoking crack cocaine and, in Shower's case, using heroin.
What happened: Dakota, who lived in the 200 block of Princess Street in Hanover, had just arrived home with her older sister at 7:09 p.m. Nov. 22, 2016, when she was fatally struck by the hit-and-run van in the road, trial testimony revealed.
The van, which was going about 22 mph, never slowed before hitting her and didn't slow afterward, according to Barker.
"What kind of driver doesn’t do anything when they strike and hit someone?" Barker asked in his closing. "One that needs to get away."
And someone who had been doing drugs all day is someone who would need to flee the scene, he argued.
"He took off," Barker said. "And he did that because he was impaired. ... That is guilty."
But Shower's public defender, Eric Wayne White, argued it was Gambal behind the wheel, not Shower.
Gambal testified that he and Shower had spent the day driving around while smoking crack, and he said that before Dakota's death, he had Shower drop him off at a local bar so Shower could go buy more drugs from a secretive source.
Gambal also testified that when Shower returned to pick him up, Shower told Gambal he'd have to take over driving.
"What Steve has concocted here is a story to save his own butt," White argued to jurors.
What witness saw: But Barker told jurors that he and police believe Gambal's version because it can be backed up by other evidence — specifically, the testimony of Matthew Markle, who heard the hit-and-run crash and got a look at the van as it went past him.
Markle, one of Dakota's neighbors, testified he was able to see inside the van because of a green glow coming from perhaps the glovebox area of the van that illuminated the driver's face.
He maintains there was only one person in the van at the time — the driver. And he described the driver as a white man in his late 20s or early 30s with a scruffy beard or goatee with scruff going up the sides of his face, darker facial hair and an oblong-shaped face.
In court Tuesday, Markle said Shower resembles the driver of the van that night.
Photos of Gambal taken by police the night of the crash showed that while he had a gray mustache, he had no beard, goatee or scruffy facial hair.
Barker reminded jurors that Markle dismissed a photo lineup that included Gambal, saying no one in the lineup resembled the driver he saw. But when shown a lineup of Shower and seven men with similar features, Markle circled four of the eight photos, saying they resembled the hit-and-run driver.
One of the photos he circled was of Shower.
"Only two people were in that van that day," Barker told jurors — one who matched the description given by Markle and one who didn't.
The prosecutor described Markle's testimony as unequivocal and unwavering, both his description of the hit-and-run driver as well as his assertion that there was no passenger.
Blames buddy: Shower initially denied knowing anything about Dakota's death, but his version of events evolved during the span of three separate police interviews. He eventually claimed he was asleep in the passenger seat when Dakota was struck and that Gambal said to him, "I think I just hit a kid."
Shower — who chose not to take the stand in his own defense at trial — told investigators that he fell back to sleep after Gambal made the statement.
But police were able to determine at least some of Shower's statements weren't true, Barker reminded jurors.
For instance, Shower told police that when Gambal dropped him at home that night after the hit-and-run crash, Gambal was hurrying him out of the car and took off before Shower could even grab his belongings from inside the van.
But a police officer following the van watched it for about 30 seconds as it sat in front of Shower's home with the dome light on and only Gambal inside, Barker told jurors.
Police from two different departments separately pulled over Gambal's van shortly after Dakota was killed, which was how police were able to focus on it that night.
Shower, 35, of York City, remains in York County Prison on $100,000 bail, charged with accidents involving death or personal injury/hit-and-run, driving under the influence and driving with a suspended license.
The hit-and-run charge is a second-degree felony. It carries a mandatory minimum sentence of three to six years in state prison and a maximum possible sentence of five to 10 years, Barker said.
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.