Mother of drunken driving victim plans to fight for justice

by: Greg Suskin Updated:


ROCK HILL, S.C. - On Saturday, a young mother will be remembered at her funeral, following her death at the hands of a suspected drunken driver.

Kristen Knight, 22, had a 5-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son.

Knight was on her way to pick them up Monday when the unthinkable happened, in the middle of the afternoon rush hour.

Troopers said a GMC Yukon SUV slammed into the back of the Kia Rio Knight was driving. She had just stopped at the light at Celanese and Hill Top roads, and was beginning to accelerate when she was struck from behind.

The fierce impact locked the SUV and car together, pushing the two vehicles more than 100 yards and across oncoming traffic, where a third car was also struck.

Kacelia Barron was at work, heard the impact and called 911. 

"It's just like somebody took a shotgun or a cannon and it just exploded. It went everywhere," she said.  "I was a nervous wreck."

Donna Aaron hasn't driven on Celanese Road since her daughter's death. 

"We were never apart. Never,” she said of Knight, who was like a best friend to her.

More horrifying than losing her child, Aaron must now live with the knowledge that the woman charged in the crash was driving drunk, according to state troopers.

Cassie Cunningham, 36, was charged with felony DUI causing death.  She’d had a previous DUI arrest in York County in 2008. 
Court records show she paid a fine and entered a court-ordered program.  She eventually got her driving privileges back.

"Not only did she take my daughter, she took my world.  It can't be replaced," Aaron said.
Learning that Cunningham was a repeat offender angers Aaron. She said the state, must do more.

"Someone must be held accountable for this. They must be," she said.

Aaron said too often people who can afford a good defense lawyer walk away with light sentences.  She knows the scales of justice are often out of balance, and wants to change that.

"I want do to whatever it is that will bring justice to the system," she said. "Whether you have money or you don't. The punishment should be the same, across the board.”

Cunningham faces up to 25 years in prison if she's convicted of felony DUI causing death. She is still in jail and was not hurt in the crash.  The driver of the third car was also not injured.