Dash cam video led to arrest in fatal hit-and-run
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MALDEN — The blue Jeep Grand Cherokee cruised to the right of a car that was attempting to turn left off Pleasant Street. As the Jeep accelerated, Yaai Chen was walking in a crosswalk outside the senior housing complex she called home.
Bystanders who saw the accident said it threw the 71-year-old Chen into the air — leaving one shoe and a winter cap behind, according to a police report. She landed, mortally injured. The Jeep slowed, then sped away.
A driver behind the sport utility vehicle briefly attempted to follow the driver, breaking off the chase after a sharp turn. But a dashboard camera in the trailing car had captured the accident, police said, helping to lead them to the alleged driver, Amar Miletic.
The details of the Dec. 27 incident emerged Monday in Malden District Court as the 24-year-old Miletic, a Saugus resident, pleaded not guilty to leaving the scene of the crash and a crosswalk violation. A judge imposed $10,000 bail, which Miletic later posted.
AnnMarie Vittorioso, who witnessed the incident, said in an interview that she heard the crash while sitting in her car. She looked up to see something flying as if thrown by the impact. She was horrified to realize it was a person.
"Thank God I didn't see her get hit," Vittorioso said. "But the aftermath, it sticks with you. It really does."
The camera footage figured prominently in the argument of Assistant Middlesex District Attorney Melissa Baima as she urged tougher conditions for Miletic's confinement. She noted that the driver had fled.
"She rolls off the car, onto the ground, lays motionless," Baima said. "That suspect car pauses momentarily, then takes off at a high rate of speed."
Malden police used a partial license plate from the video to narrow the search and eventually found the suspected Jeep at Miletic's Saugus home. He was arrested Saturday.
Baima had asked District Court Judge Dominic Paratore to impose bail of $25,000 and to revoke Miletic's bail on a pending credit card misuse case in which he is accused of making $1,287.48 in fraudulent purchases.
The prosecutor argued that Miletic is a flight risk and noted that he has contacts outside of the country.
The judge rejected that request, following an argument from defense attorney Charles Jordan, who said Miletic plans to return to court. Jordan said Miletic has family from Bosnia, but that doesn't mean he's planning to leave the United States, where he has lived most of his life.
"He's not charged with causing the accident. He's charged with leaving the scene," Jordan said.
According to police records filed in court, Miletic works at Walmart and had been scheduled to work there on the day Chen was struck. He called in to say he would be late but never showed up, records say.
Friends of Chen have said she was an active participant in the life of the senior housing complex operated by the Malden Housing Authority. One resident said Chen regularly gave her oranges as gifts.
In the days after her death, others recalled her big smile. A bulletin board at the complex showed Chen participating in a Chinese New Year celebration.
Vittorioso said she and another woman tried to help Chen after the SUV left.
"She was moaning, and sort of curled up," Vittorioso said.
Chen was rushed to Melrose-Wakefield Hospital, but she did not survive.
According to the police report, investigators went to see Miletic and his father, who asked about what happened in the crash. "Is she OK?" one allegedly asked. Police, however, said they had never told the men the gender of the victim.
Miletic returns to court March 3. He was barred from driving as a condition of his release.