Woman charged with murder in fatal crash


(A woman takes time to bring a vase of flowers to the crash site on Modesto Avenue Saturday. Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

SANTA CRUZ — Santa Cruz Police are continuing their investigation of a solo-vehicle crash that left a pedestrian dead Friday on the west side of the city.

Deputy Chief Dan Flippo said the 23-year-old victim, McKenzie Gilbert, was walking west on the 700 block of Modesto Avenue at about 3:25 p.m. when a 1999 black Infiniti SUV, also traveling westbound, struck her from behind in the intersection of Sacramento Avenue.

Gilbert was pronounced dead at the scene, Flippo said.

The driver, 24-year-old Kelsey Knoll of Mount Herman (Santa Cruz County), is being charged with murder. Her bail has been set at $2.5 million.

“When officers arrived they found the driver and the victim,” said Lt. Warren Barry. “The victim was being treating by witnesses who had seen the collision and they were rendering aid to her. During the investigation with witness statements, some security footage and meeting with the District Attorney’s Office, it was determined that this was not an accident but an intentional act. The driver of the vehicle is being charged with murder.”

kelsey knoll

Kelsey Knoll

SCPD investigators brought in a California Highway Patrol drug recognition expert to examine Knoll and determine if she was driving the vehicle under the influence. The results of blood and alcohol testing are pending. It is unknown if alcohol or drugs were a factor in the collision, Flippo said.

“From the witness statements of hearing the vehicle accelerate and looking at the video, the vehicle drove onto the other side of the road and struck the victim from behind,” Barry said.

The crash occurred in a quiet neighborhood two blocks from the popular West Cliff Drive that meanders along the cliffs overlooking the sea. On Saturday, an altar of flowers and handmade signs continued to build on the corner of the crash site where police spray paint markings dotted the asphalt. One large sign read, “You were very loved.”

Detectives are reviewing video surveillance in the area and interviewing additional witnesses. No motive has been established.

“The suspect does have priors of various crimes in our county,” Barry said. “The results of the toxicology tests won’t be ready for at least two weeks.”

According to court records, the incident is not Knoll’s first brush with the law. In 2015, she was charged with felony count of possession of a controlled substance and selling a controlled substance. Later the same year she was charged with possession of a controlled substance.

In 2017, Knoll again was charged with a felony for possession of a controlled substance. In May 2018, Knoll had a misdemeanor charge of possession of a controlled substance.

In 2015, Scotts Valley Police said Knoll was arrested twice in the same week on suspicion of sale of heroin and methamphetamine after they found large quantities of the illegal drugs in her car on both occasions.

The Santa Cruz Police Department asks anyone with information about the collision to contact investigators at 420-5820.

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