Teen driver charged in Senior Skip Day crash that killed Stockbridge student

MaKayla Penn was killed in a March 26 interstate crash outside Southlake Mall in Morrow. Her friend and classmate at Community Christian School, Cristina Pavon-Baker, will face a charge of homicide by vehicle in the first degree in her death. (Special Photo)

JONESBORO —

A teenage driver will face a charge of first-degree vehicular homicide in the March Interstate 75 crash that killed her friend outside Southlake Mall.

The girls were traveling to the mall March 26, on a Monday morning, to shop for an upcoming beach trip over spring break. It was their Senior Skip Day. Their Mini Cooper went out of control while attempting to navigate the curve at exit 233.

The car flipped several times before it crashed into a tree.

MaKayla Penn, an 18-year-old student at Community Christian School in Stockbridge, was killed. Prosecutors will attempt to hold Cristina Pavon-Baker, 18, Penn’s friend and classmate, responsible for her death.

According to an arrest warrant, Pavon-Baker was traveling 106 mph in a 65 mph zone before the crash.

Investigators recovered data from the Mini Cooper’s airbag module that indicated the car’s speed.

“Ms. Pavon-Baker exited Interstate 75 northbound at the ramp at Jonesboro Road. There are four signs posted at this ramp that indicate a sharp curve ahead,” a prosecuting officer states in the warrant application. “Ms. Pavon-Baker failed to recognize these warnings and lost control of her vehicle. The pursuant crash caused the death of MaKayla Penn.”

Pavon-Baker will also face misdemeanor charges of speeding and reckless driving. According to District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson, investigators are still looking into whether Pavon-Baker was using Snapchat while driving.

She appeared handcuffed in Clayton County Magistrate Court the morning of Wednesday, April 25, for a first appearance hearing, when her bond was set at $31,000. Pavon-Baker was released from the county jail late Wednesday afternoon after being held overnight.

At a vigil at Community Bible Church the day after Penn’s death, students and teachers described her as a calm and happy spirit who was kind, beautiful and well-loved. She was a member of the school’s cheerleading squad.

Several students expressed their shock. They had just celebrated senior prom the weekend before, and they were looking forward to spring break. Penn was expecting to attend the University of Georgia in the fall and was ticking off the remaining days of her senior year.

Some directed their prayers for Pavon-Baker, who was still hospitalized at the time, and encouraged others not to place blame.

“That girl loved well and she was loved well,” said Danni Washburn, an English teacher at the school. “MaKayla had a glow about her that will never be put out. It’s a light that I will always remember.”

Pavon-Baker will now await consideration of her charges by a grand jury.

Public safety and government reporter Chelsea Prince joined the Henry Herald and Clayton News Daily in 2016. She is a graduate of Emory University.

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