A Columbia woman was arrested Thursday night by California Highway Patrol in connection with a fatal hit-and-run crash that killed 17-year-old Molly Burgess, who was found clinging to life in a ditch along Highway 49 north of downtown Sonora on Feb. 28.
Lisa Dianne Hunt, 67, was arrested about 6:35 p.m. at the satellite office on Cedar Road in Sonora that houses the detective division for the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office, according to jail booking logs, which cited CHP as the arresting agency.
Hunt was subsequently booked into the county jail on suspicion of felony hit and run resulting in death or great bodily injury, felony fleeing the scene of a crash with a person injured or dead, and misdemeanor charges of destroying or concealing evidence, providing false information to an officer, and vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence.
She was released before 3 a.m. Friday after posting $50,000, according Vinelink, a website that tracks the custody status of inmates in California jail and prison facilities,
Hunt’s occupation was listed as a nurse in the Sheriff’s custody logs.
The California Department of Consumer Affairs’ website listed a vocational nursing license for a Lisa Dianne Hunt that was issued on March 14, 1997, and voluntarily surrendered on March 29, 2002, after a formal statement of charges filed against her on Jan. 10, 2001.
There was no additional information available about the charges on the department’s website.
Hunt could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Burgess was found lying along the side of Highway 49 near O’Hara Drive with severe injuries about 5:30 p.m. Feb. 28. Her family said she was taken to Columbia Airport and died while being prepared for transport via helicopter to an out-of-county hospital.
CHP Officer Steve Machado said he could not provide any other details about exactly how Burgess was believed to have gotten hit along Highway 49, though he said that Hunt was believed to be driving a dark-colored SUV at the time.
Machado said Hunt drove to the Sheriff’s Office building on Cedar Road to be interviewed Thursday, though he couldn’t confirm whether anything she said there led to her arrest.
Hunt arrived at the Sheriff’s Office building on Cedar Road in a different type of vehicle than the one connected to Burgess’ death, Machado said. He could not comment on the status of the SUV that was believed to have been involved.
The CHP put out a call for the public’s help in solving the case within days of the incident and expressed gratitude in the news release on Friday for the “multiple phone calls” it received that assisted in the arrest.
“The only thing I can say is we did receive several phone calls from the public that kind of gave us a timeline of her (Hunt’s) location,” he said. “It made it a lot easier and faster to bring closure to the family.”
Hunt was tentatively scheduled for an arraignment in Tuolumne County Superior Court, according to the Tuolumne County District Attorney’s Office. A criminal complaint was not available as of about noon Friday.
Burgess lived near Columbia Airport with her mother, stepfather and seven of her 12 siblings. She was a week shy of her 18th birthday at the time of her death and had been preparing to go college hunting with a friend from Vermont, where she spent much of her childhood, over the summer.
Tammy Snell, the deceased girl’s mother, said on Friday that the family has been leaning on each other to cope through the grief of the loss.
“There’s just been a lot of crying and hugging, and more crying, and holding each other,” she said.
The last time Snell saw her daughter was Feb. 27 when she dropped her off to spend the night at a friend’s place in an RV park on Italian Bar Road.
Burgess left the house about 3:30 p.m. the following day without telling anyone where she was headed, Snell said, so it’s still unknown how and why she was in the specific location where she was found on the west shoulder of Highway 49 at O’Hara Drive.
Snell said she was told by an investigating officer that a man and woman were driving past the area and heard something that made them look and see her along the side of the road. She also said she was told that Burgess was conscious at the time and able to identify herself and her mother. It is unclear how long she was there before she was found.
“I don’t know how long she was coherent for, but I know she was screaming for help,” Snell said.
The family was not notified until a Sheriff’s deputy came to their house about 9 p.m., something that has haunted Snell because they live within a 10-minute drive from where Burgess was found.
A memorial for Burgess was held on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, her favorite holiday because of her Irish heritage.
Snell said the memorial was held at New Hope Bible Church in Irasburg, Vermont, and live streamed via Zoom and YouTube.
Burgess was born in Vermont and lived there on and off until she moved to Tuolumne County when she was 14.
There has been a continued outpouring of support from people who knew Burgess in both states since her death, Snell said.
“It just continues to amaze me at what a bright light she was and how she wasn’t just my blessing, she was a blessing to all who came in contact with her,” Snell said.
Snell and Burgess’ stepfather, Joey Violett, whose last name Burgess was planning to take as her own, said they are grateful for the work of the CHP investigators that led to an arrest. However, they are concerned about the court process moving forward.
“In a way, we’re relieved, but we have so much still to fight for,” he said. “As much as I would like to say this is part of closure, we just feel like we’re getting to the beginning of the healing.”
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 768-5175.