Terra Flipping, de 38 años, se declaró culpable en julio de abandonar la escena de un accidente con resultado de muerte.
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By William Morris,  Des Moines Register 

A Des Moines woman charged in the hit-and-run death of an East High School student is pleading guilty, and says in court filings she left the scene of the accident because she became afraid of the witnesses who were gathering there.

Terra Flipping, 38, was charged in the death of Ema Cardenas, whom she struck with her car and killed April 28 as the girl was crossing in the 1600 block of East University Avenue. Ema, who was a week away from her quinceañera, or 15th birthday celebration, was walking home from school when she was hit.

UPDATE: on September 7, Terra Flipping was sentenced to 2 years probation for the hit-and-run

Flipping will plead guilty to leaving the scene of an accident causing death, according to court documents made public Thursday. She faces up to five years in prison and a $10,250 fine, but the plea, filed Wednesday, shows she intends to seek a deferred judgment from the court.

After Flipping left the scene, investigators located her vehicle at her home less than a mile away and arrested her. Police at the time said there was no evidence the collision was anything but accidental.

In her plea filing, Flipping acknowledged failing to stay at the scene.

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“I stopped my vehicle and went back to the location where the victim was lying,” she said in the plea filing. “I became frightened of the gathering witnesses, returned to my vehicle and drove to my home nearby.”

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She had been scheduled to stand trial on Aug. 8.

Ema’s death, which came less than two months after another East High student was killed and two more seriously injured in a drive-by shooting, shook the school community. Teachers and classmates remembered the teen as “friends with everyone.” Her mother, Anna Campos, asked mourners at a May 2 memorial event to pray for Flipping as well as Ema’s family.

Anna Campos and her daughter Nayelli Sandoval, 16, pose for a photo near a makeshift memorial for 14-year-old Ema Cardenas, Campos daughter and Nayelli’s sister, on East University Avenue where the girl was killed in a hit-and-run accident April 28. Meg McLaughlin/The Register

Campos and other friends and family urged city officials after the crash to improve  safety through increased penalties for traffic violations, better lighting, speed bumps and additional crossing guards. In response, the Des Moines City Council in June created expanded speed zones around school district stadiums and practice fields, including the area where Ema was killed, near Des Moines Public Schools’ Duke Williams Stadium.

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Des Moines had four pedestrian deaths in 2019, five in 2020, and three in 2021. Ema is one of three pedestrians to die on city streets so far this year, including 35-year-old Dustin Atkinson, who was struck and killed Thursday while crossing Indianola Avenue.

William Morris covers courts for the Des Moines Register. He can be contacted at [email protected], 715-573-8166 or on Twitter at @DMRMorris.

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