Porter wants to return to teaching
By LETITIA STEIN
Published April 19, 2007
TAMPA - Jennifer Porter, the Hillsborough teacher who fled an accident that killed two children and injured two others, will fight for the right to return to a public school classroom.
Porter was a dance teacher at Muller Elementary School when she drove away after a collision with four siblings, ages 2 to 13, who were crossing a dark street near the North Tampa school. She pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of the March 2004 accident - a felony - but avoided jail time through a judge's ruling.
Cries of racial injustice greeted her sentencing. Porter is white, the children, black.
Now, as Porter, 31, enters the final six months of a two-year house arrest, whether she can teach again in Florida is the question.
Barry Cohen, her attorney, said stellar character references and expert testimony on how she suffered psychological trauma - which helped convince the judge to spare her a prison sentence - should persuade a state panel to let Porter hold onto her teaching certification.
"She has so much to offer," said Cohen, who represented Porter in the high-profile case. "We heard from so many parents and students about the difference she made in their lives."
Porter's right to teach was scheduled for a hearing Friday in Tampa but is expected to be postponed for further discussion between her attorneys and the Florida Department of Education. Teachers who commit criminal felony acts can face penalties ranging from suspension to revocation of teaching credentials.
Cohen is willing to take Porter's case to a formal hearing. The state also allows teachers an opportunity to discuss settlement options in such cases. Resolution could take months. Here is a recap for those unfamiliar with the story:
Copyright Times Publishing Co. Aug 18, 2004
James "Greg" Porter took control after his daughter was involved in a March 31 crash that left two children dead and injured two others.
He now regrets some of his decisions.(really?)
That night, Porter decided his 28-year-old daughter Jennifer should not go back to the scene, according to an interview with prosecutors released Tuesday. He also decided not to call authorities until he contacted a lawyer, which didn't happen for more than a day.
He told his family to resume their daily lives while he considered what to do next, and they went about their business in the morning as if nothing had happened. Jennifer Porter went back to the school where she taught.
"I don't think anybody was trying to hide anything from anybody," James Porter said in the interview. "Everybody was upset. . . . I didn't really want her to be at home because I just - I thought that it would be better if she would be occupied doing something she maybe could get a little focus on."
Later in the interview, he bemoaned that decision.
"I wish I had advised that she stayed home that day," he said.
The documents were part of the ongoing release of evidence in hit- and-run case against Jennifer Porter. She is accused of leaving the scene on a accident with death, a felony that comes with a maximum 15-year sentence.
The crash occurred just after sundown on March 31, as four children crossed N 22nd Street near 142nd Avenue on their way home from a neighborhood community center. Bryant Wilkins, 13, and his 3- year-old brother, Durontae Caldwell, were killed instantly. Their siblings, Aquina Wilkins, 8, and her brother LaJuan Davis, 2, were injured.
Investigators said Porter's car was northbound. Witnesses said a northbound car dragged the 3-year-old about 150 feet, and the driver fled. Porter's lawyer, Barry Cohen, said she was on her way home from the nearby Muller Elementary School when she was "involved" in the accident. He did not elaborate.
Prosecutors questioned James Porter, 48, three weeks after the accident. He, his wife, their other daughter and her boyfriend all agreed to speak to authorities on the grounds that what they said could not be used against them.
Porter said he made the decisions and gave the instructions that evening and the next day, some of which he now regrets.
After receiving a frantic call from his wife after the crash, he returned to his Land O' Lakes home from his night shift job at the post office to find his daughter sobbing, shaking, sometimes doubled- over in agony. Jennifer Porter begged her parents to take her back to 22nd Street. She said a body had hit her windshield.
Her father refused.
"I just didn't think she was . . . in any condition to go back and deal with that," he said.
When asked if he had any plans to call authorities, Porter said yes.
Nobody "had any other thought other than to notify law enforcement at some time," he said, but he thought they first should get an attorney.
Porter ordered his daughter's Echo driven back home from the dance studio where she had parked it after the accident. Then he told his other daughter's live-in boyfriend to move the car into the garage, which was rarely used to park the family's cars. Later, he told his youngest daughter, Kelly, to remove Jennifer's belongings from the Echo.
Meanwhile, he wiped away streaks of blood from the driver's side window with paper towels and Lysol.
BE AWARE JENNIFER PORTER MAYBE COMING TO YOUR SCHOOL DISTRICT SEEKING EMPLOYMENT