As a freshman at N.C. Central University, Myiah Andrews was finally getting settled into being a college student, her mother said.
She was to turn 19 in nine days and was making plans to celebrate with her family.
Myiah was so responsible and cautious that her closest friends called her “Grandma,” according to her mother, Tonya Andrews.
“Myiah was afraid of many things,” her mother said. “But her worst fear was getting into a bad car accident.”
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The teen always wore a seat belt and refused to ride with drivers who had been drinking — but it wasn’t enough, Tonya Andrews said..
“Natasha Taylor didn’t make the same responsible choices that night, which caused my baby girl’s nightmare to come true,” she said at Taylor’s sentencing hearing Tuesday.
Taylor was sentenced to serve up to 89 months, or about 7 1/2 years, in prison after pleading guilty Sept. 6 to death by motor vehicle and felony serious injury by vehicle. Both charges are felonies.
Myiah Andrews was one of three passengers in a car driven by Quillon Rendleman on April 9, 2017. The NCCU students had made a run to the store, and Rendleman was driving on East Geer Street around 9:30 p.m. when he was struck head-on by a car driven by Taylor, now 26.
Security camera footage showed Taylor’s car veering off the road and into the opposite lane and colliding with the car driven by Rendleman.
Myiah Andrews was pronounced dead at the scene. Another student, Celi Smith, suffered fractures to his face and other injuries.
A blood test revealed that Taylor’s blood-alcohol level was 0.12, above the legal limit of 0.08, and she had a number of drugs in her system, including amphetamine and cocaine metabolites, said Assistant District Attorney Dale Morrill.
Months or years in jail?
Superior Court Judge Carolyn Thompson granted Morrill’s request Tuesday to sentence Taylor to the maximum time in state prison, from 64 months to 89 months.
Idrissa Smith, Taylor’s attorney, said his client was exposed to years of physical and mental abuse and has several mental health diagnoses. He asked that Taylor spend 120 days in jail followed by a strict and lengthy probation that would include drug and other treatment programs.
“This is a problem that compounds,” Smith said. “Especially when you have a combination of substance abuse and mental health (issues).”
Smith said his client’s behavior wasn’t driven by selfishness and senselessness, but addiction and sickness.
Taylor transitioned from abusive situation to abusive situation growing up, he said. She has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder and other illnesses.
Her mental health issues became a stepping stone to substance abuse, Smith said.
On the night of the crash, Taylor was in treatment but had fought with her now ex-husband about whether she would be able to take care of their now 4-year-old child. The argument was a trigger for Taylor to self-medicate, Smith said.
Since being charged, Taylor has been through numerous treatment programs, completing some and leaving others early.
“I just want to apologize to everyone that I hurt,” Taylor said. “I know it doesn’t’ mean much, but I am going to do what I can to get better so I don’t hurt nobody else.”
Thompson, the judge, said those who have attended college understand what freshman year is like.
“It could have been any of us,” Thompson said.
The phone call
Myiah Andrews had spent most of the day of the crash with her mother and her younger sister in Durham. Tonya Andrews had made plans to return the following Thursday to pick up Myiah for Easter break and returned to their home in Greenville around 5:30 p.m.
Around 7:45 p.m. Myiah sent a text to her mom, who responded. The text was delivered but never read.
Then Myiah’s sister ran into Tonya Andrews’ room, saying someone told her Myiah was in a crash. Tonya Andrews called Myiah’s phone. She didn’t answer.
Tonya Andrews spoke to one of the passengers in the car, and he couldn’t say where Myiah was.
“At this moment, I was panic-stricken,” Andrews said.
Tonya Andrews decided to drive to Durham and pick up her sister in Wilson on the way. As she pulled into her sister’s driveway, her phone rang. It was a man from the Durham Police Department. He asked if she had someone with her.
“I immediately started to scream,” she said. “I asked the man … please don’t tell me what I think he is going to say.”
The days following, she said, were indescribable.
Instead of shopping for a birthday outfit and planning a party, Andrews looked for something for her daughter to wear in the coffin and planned a funeral.
Myiah aspired to be a pediatric nurse practitioner and had joined the National Council of Negro Women and other organizations.
Tonya Andrews said she didn’t think Taylor had taken responsible for her “selfish and senseless choice.”
“You should pay for what you have done by getting the maximum sentence allowed,” Tonya Andrews said. “Maybe then you will have time to reflect and do the right thing for your family.”
To the other students who were in the car that night and are still struggling with Myiah’s loss, Thompson encouraged them to graduate and walk across the stage in her honor.
“Make this world a better place. Push through the nights that still haunt you,” the judge said. “Push through the moment that you want to give up. This tragedy no court can fix. No sentence will fix, but you do have the opportunity to be the change agent.”