Woman convicted in party attack

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 31, 2007

COURTLAND—After arguing with other guests at a party hosted by her boyfriend on White Meadow Road near Boykins in July, Tam Smalls was angry and had a score to settle.

She left the party briefly before returning with a utility knife to confront the woman with whom she had spent most of the night arguing and exchanging blows. But her cousin grabbed her, put her in a headlock and held her down while someone else took the knife.

Within minutes of that humiliation, at about 1:30 a.m., Smalls was in her car, spinning wheels in the grass outside the home, headed for a path that would take her to the road. According to her own testimony in court on Tuesday, Smalls &uot;drove out pretty fast,&uot; pointing the car at her female rival.

Somehow — whether he was just standing near by or being a hero is a point of conflicting testimony — Christopher Woodley wound up the target of Smalls’ vehicular weapon. Four months later, a slight limp and scars on his shoulder, forearm, back and face are the visible reminders of the trauma he suffered under the wheels of her car.

Today, he has trouble forgetting about the incident, and his memories keep him awake at night, he told Circuit Court Judge Westbrook J. Parker during Smalls’ trial on two felony counts.

She had been charged with aggravated malicious wounding and hit and run.

After noting that Woodley’s injuries did not appear to be permanent — a distinguishing factor of an &uot;aggravated&uot; offense — Parker reduced the first charge to malicious wounding and convicted Smalls on both counts.

&uot;We haven’t heard it all,&uot; he said while announcing his guilty verdicts. &uot;We know she had a score to settle; we just don’t know what that score was. There’s no question she’s guilty.&uot;

It was a quick end to a trial that had lasted several hours in Southampton’s Circuit Court, featuring witnesses whose accounts differed in only minor details, with the exception of Smalls, who never admitted running over Woodley.

Smalls confirmed witness accounts of her arguments with the other woman, Woodley’s girlfriend. She also admitted that the argument had escalated to a fight and that she had left the party and then returned with a utility knife.

&uot;I was defending myself,&uot; she said.

The events that transpired after her cousin disarmed her were the major point of contention during Tuesday’s hearing.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Cooke and witnesses for the prosecution said Smalls got in her car and drove toward her boyfriend, who was standing in front of Woodley’s girlfriend, briefly pinning him between her car and a dump truck on the property.

She then turned her car toward the woman, accelerating and spinning her wheels in the grass. When he saw his girlfriend in danger, Woodley said, he ran in front of the car and pushed her out of the way, just in time for Smalls to swerve toward him.

Witnesses described Woodley on the hood of Smalls’ car when he was first hit. As she slowed, he slid underneath the front tire, and she continued to run over him as she turned to flee the scene, according to witness testimony.

Prosecutors referred to photos that showed damage to the front of the car and dust smears on the hood that were consistent with what would have happened if the car had hit a person. Investigators also found a broken-off heat shield from a car’s exhaust system at the scene. Later, they found that Smalls’ vehicle was missing its heat shield.

Testifying on her own behalf, Smalls denied pinning her boyfriend with the vehicle, saying her car had &uot;slipped in the sand&uot; but had avoided hitting the man.

Prosecutors dropped the charges they had lodged against Smalls for the pinning because of her relationship to the victim, Cooke said in court on Tuesday.

Smalls also would not admit running over Woodley as she left the party.

She said she had heard someone yelling, &uot;You hit my cousin!&uot; as she drove away, but she did not see Woodley sprawled across her hood, and she did not hear him as her car bumped over his body.

If someone had been hurt, she told the court, she would have expected a phone call when she got home.

Instead, Southampton sheriff’s deputies showed up on her doorstep in the middle of the night and informed her that she had run over a man.

&uot;She said she didn’t realize that she had hit someone, and she became hysterical,&uot; Deputy John Whitby testified.

Judge Parker was not persuaded by defense attorney Paul Fritzinger’s argument that Smalls’ reaction to that news indicated she really had not realized what had happened as she left the party.

Smalls will remain free on bond until a sentencing hearing in January.