There’s always another story line, a backstory to any incident that makes the news.
In the involuntary manslaughter case against Tamika Pledger, the Wyandotte County activist whose car plowed into a group of teenagers resulting in the death of one, there are numerous side accounts.
To refresh memories, Pledger is now charged in the death of Tierra Smith, 16. And, as a recent Star story detailed, Pledger isn’t doing herself any favors by enacting a conspiracy-driven defense, issuing statements that defy logic.
It’s a darn shame. Because Pledger had been generously filling the role of substitute parent for one of the teenagers who is in a worse space because of what happened that day, Jan. 30.
A girl fight started the downward spiral of events. According to police and others, a group of girls drove to Wyandotte High School planning on beating up another girl. If not for that ill-thought-out maneuver, this tragedy could have been avoided.
Ta’Mya Coulter says she was the target. Coulter is a distant relative of Pledger’s. Her mother is ill, very ill. In the past several months, Coulter’s mother had a cancerous tumor diagnosed and suffered complications of a seizure and blood clots. So Pledger had been letting Coulter live with her so the teen could continue attending Wyandotte High School.
Coulter believes the girls were after her half sister, who had gotten into a fight with the same girls a month before. The other families haven’t been commenting, a wise move with the trial still ahead.
But police agree the girls showed up at the school and got kicked out by security. Coulter says they then decided to jump her after school, at her bus stop. “I put it on myself because Tamika wouldn’t have been in that situation if it wasn’t for me,” she said of the accident. Pledger was driving — police say speeding — to the scene, to try and prevent the fight.
The teens were in the middle of the street, brawling. Coulter remembers being punched, slipping, her head crashing against the pavement, being kicked and then, nothing. She awoke in the ambulance. She suffered a bruised spine and a concussion.
Now Coulter questions whether school security — most of whom are officers with the Kansas City, Kan., Police Department — or the bus driver could have done more. Coulter contends that she told the bus driver of the girls’ intent, but was told to get off at her stop. She sent an affidavit of her version to police, hoping for charges against the girls who attacked her.
Kansas City, Kan., activist Alvin Sykes is troubled that the only one who is charged is the one who came to help: Pledger.
But Pledger was supposed to be the adult, not recklessly speeding.
Sykes also notes, “Everybody who was intentionally trying to cause harm (in the fight) has escaped charges.” That’s true. Several of the teenagers, the ones not injured by Pledger’s car, fled after the wreck.
Rick Armstrong, chief of police for the school district, said it would be a mischaracterization to suggest that security didn’t react appropriately. He noted that it’s not feasible for officers to leave the campus (they have no squad cars) to chase the teens who were asked to leave the school. But school officers were in contact with other police about such suspicious activity.
He also stressed that teenagers, by virtue of their development level, do not anticipate consequences. Adults, however, are supposed to.
A question for Pledger’s upcoming preliminary hearing is why she didn’t call 911 after her daughter called her, letting her know about the fight.
Coulter, probably like all of the teenagers involved, is struggling. Her mother, LaTasha Coulter, is concerned. She notes the depression, the weight loss of her daughter. “It’s like everyone forgets what she endured,” she said. But with her own health compromised, Coulter’s mother has been staying with an aunt. Her younger children, ages 5 to 16, are living with their maternal grandmother in Lenexa.
As the eldest, Coulter wants to work, to help out. She had been working at a McDonald’s, but transportation was a problem. No car.
She’d like to finish high school, but says she was pushed toward an equivalency degree instead by district officials. Already 19, she may need to repeat her junior year. Instead, she’s been flopping between her aunt’s place and her grandmother’s. Her mother wants her to graduate.
“All of this is stopping her from going forward,” LaTasha Coulter said. “I feel like a lot of people are at fault.”