Hit-and-run, then a chase

Motorcyclist killed;witness runs, leaps bush to halt suspect

May 6, 2009 

A Modesto man chased down a driver who tried to flee a fatal hit-and-run accident Tuesday night, police said.

Justin Mingham, 28, said he saw the driver of a black sport utility vehicle "kick off her shoes and split" after the car struck and dragged a motorcycle at Haddon and El Vista avenues.

Mingham said he chased the driver on foot and told her, "If you run, you're going to make everything way worse."

The motorcycle driver, Irvin Tefertiller, 51, was pronounced dead at a hospital about half an hour after the accident, police said.

The driver, Jennifer Cowgill, 23, of Modesto, was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter, felony hit and run, and felony driving under the influence.

Mingham said he saw the accident from an alley behind his Cloverdale Avenue house. According to police, Cowgill was driving south on El Vista in a black Ford Explorer about 8:20 p.m. Tefertiller was riding his 1983 Honda motorcycle north on El Vista. Cowgill turned in front of Tefertiller as she made a left turn onto Haddon.

Mingham and his wife, Karressa, said they heard the crunch of breaking glass and saw sparks fly as the Explorer dragged the motorcycle about 100 feet east on Haddon.

After the crash, Mingham said he and his wife heard Cowgill screaming and working the accelerator on her truck, trying to drive forward. The motorcycle blocked the truck's path, said Mingham.

Tefertiller was apparently knocked off his bike by the collision, said Mingham. Mingham said he found Tefertiller laying face down at Haddon and El Vista. Mingham yelled to his wife to call 911.

A neighbor felt for Tefertiller's pulse, but couldn't find one, said Mingham. "There wasn't much I could do for him at that point," said Mingham. His thoughts then turned to the driver, he said, because he didn't want her to get away.

Cowgill got out of her car, took off her shoes, then ran off, said Mingham. Cowgill paused briefly at Haddon and Cloverdale, glanced left and right, then ran south on Cloverdale, said Mingham.

Mingham said he chased Cowgill, jumping over a low hedge and catching up with her about five or six houses down the block. A neighbor stayed with Tefertiller.

Mingham said he blocked Cowgill's path and told her, "It's not worth running. Everything is going to work itself out."

Cowgill grabbed Mingham's arm, then sank to the ground, said Mingham and his wife.

Cowgill was "absolutely terrified," said Mingham. She asked if the person she hit was OK. Cowgill told bystanders that she didn't have a driver's license, said Karressa Mingham.

Court records show that Cowgill was charged in 2006 with driving under the influence and reckless driving. She was sentenced to 15 days in jail and three years' informal probation after she pleaded no contest to the drunken driving charge.

As Justin Mingham stood at the scene of the accident Wednesday afternoon, one of Tefertiller's sons drove up. With a catch in his voice, Seth Tefertiller, 28, asked Mingham whether he thought his father died instantly. "Yeah, definitely," said Mingham. Tefertiller listened to Mingham's story, then shook his hand and drove off.

Tefertiller's son Trampus, 29, described his father as a "strong Christian man" who was his family's rock.

Tefertiller was a retired roofer and father to five children, said Trampus Tefertiller. He liked reading the Bible, and regularly attended Trinity Baptist Church. He occasionally filled in as a Sunday school teacher. Trampus Tefertiller said his father was like a "therapist" to him and his siblings, helping them cope after the death of their mother two years ago.

"Everybody could turn to him and he always had the answers to everybody's problems," said Tefertiller. "I don't know what I'm going to do without him now."

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at lalbrecht@modbee.com or 578-2378.

Modesto Bee is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service