A 23-year-old woman was walking along a road in Santa Cruz, California, on Friday afternoon when an SUV veered toward her and struck her, according to police.
Responders pronounced the woman dead at the scene. Authorities then turned to security camera footage and crash witnesses to figure out how and why the driver hit the pedestrian. But the investigation revealed the 3:30 p.m. collision was no accident, according to police.
“She was targeting this pedestrian,” Santa Cruz police Lt. Warren Barry told KSBW. “This appears to be an intentional act. From what witnesses are telling us, and partial video that we have, the driver drove into the other lane, striking the victim from behind.”
The driver of the 1999 black Infiniti SUV, 24-year-old Kelsey Knoll of nearby Mount Hermon, has now been charged with murder.
Knoll pleaded not guilty to the murder charges in a Santa Cruz court on Tuesday, the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian reports. Her next court date is scheduled for Aug. 16.
Authorities told KSBW that they are not yet sure if Knoll was familiar with the victim, who has been identified as McKenzie Gilbert. The victim had been visiting family in Santa Cruz when she was killed, authorities told the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
“She just finished school,” Barry told the Sentinel. “This is a tragedy.”
A judge also agreed to prosecutors’ request Tuesday that Knoll’s bail be revoked, according to the newspaper.
“We believe if she obtains bail she would be a risk to the community,” Johanna Schonfield, a Santa Cruz County prosecutor, told the Register-Pajaronian.
Authorities said that blood and alcohol tests, intended to figure out whether Knoll was under the influence during the collision, are pending.
Knoll was the only person in the car at the time of the collision, the Sentinel reports. Afterward, the car was seen with weeds and grass dangling from its underside, a flat tire and a broken headlight. A witness who called 911 told the Sentinel the victim was “crushed” and bloody when he arrived.
Knoll was arrested in a car-related incident a little over a week before Gilbert’s death, according to arrest records obtained by KSBW. After driving into a CVS on July 11 in Felton, a highway patrol officer arrested her on suspicion of driving while on drugs.
Knoll has also faced drug charges in the past, the Sentinel reports.
Gilbert’s mother wrote on Facebook that the family “is devastated and in disbelief,” Patch reports. A memorial service for Gilbert is planned for 11 a.m. July 31 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Los Gatos.