Wrong-way driver in fatal crash thought she was in taxi - WKRN News 2

Wrong-way driver in fatal crash thought she was in taxi

Posted: Updated: Feb 23, 2012 11:15 PM CST
Rebecca Benson, 22, of Antioch, is charged with vehicular homicide for the deadly crash. Rebecca Benson, 22, of Antioch, is charged with vehicular homicide for the deadly crash.
Steffanie Leonard, 29, of Franklin, died at the scene. Steffanie Leonard, 29, of Franklin, died at the scene.

A 22-year-old Antioch woman has been formally served with a vehicular homicide warrant after she collided head-on with a minivan, killing the driver on Interstate 65 in Nashville Wednesday morning.

Rebecca Benson, who is recovering at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, was served the warrant on Thursday.

The deadly crash occurred just after 4 a.m. Wednesday in the northbound lanes of I-65 near Wedgewood Avenue, just south of the downtown loop.

Metro police said Benson, driving a white Lexus SUV, got on the highway at Broadway, traveled south in the northbound lanes for about a mile before striking the van.

The driver, 29-year-old Steffanie Leonard, of Franklin, died at the scene.

Benson was injured and taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center.  She told officers at the scene she thought she was in a cab.

"She mentioned that she thought she was in a taxicab," Metro police spokesperson Don Aaron said.  "Well, she wasn't in a taxicab.  She was actually driving her Lexus vehicle, the wrong way on the interstate and collided head-on with the van."

The wreck shut down the interstate for about four hours.

Leonard, a graduate of Page High School, worked as a sales rep for Pepsi and was on her way to begin her route when she was killed.

According to family members, Leonard would begin her day at 2 a.m., pick up supplies at a warehouse and then travel to stores in north Nashville, Madison and Hendersonville.

It's a job that fit her personality, according to her sister, Rebekah Leonard.

"She was the most vibrant young woman you've ever met," Rebekah recalled.  "There was nothing she was scared of.  If she had a challenge, she would go for it.  She just did whatever she could for her family and friends."

Her mother, Marti Leonard added, "Her nickname was Motor mouth.  She loved to talk. She could talk about 15 subjects in two minutes and none of them be related.  She just had such a zest for life."

"There was no one that would turn her down," Rebekah Leonard added, "She would talk anybody into anything."

The last time Marti Leonard saw her daughter was Monday night.

"She was telling me about her job, that she was finally in a job where she was making good income and enjoying it and saving and had her plans set to buy her a house in three years," she said.  "Her comment to me was, ‘Mama, I think I've finally got to be an adult.'  She was so excited.  She felt grown now.  Finally, she was on her feet and everything was coming together for her."

To the person who hit her daughter, Marti Leonard said, "I don't know the circumstances there, but my prayers are out to them too because I could not imagine doing that."

Aaron said the circumstances surrounding Benson's activities before the crash remain under investigation.

First responders reported that Benson smelled of alcohol and she acknowledged drinking prior to the collision.

"Ms. Benson smelled of alcohol, according to a witness who first rushed up to the scene and attempted to check on the condition of the motorists," Aaron said.  "Ms. Benson cursed at him and appeared disoriented.  When the first police sergeant arrived at the scene, he tried to talk to her [and] she smelled of alcohol and appeared to be disoriented."

Benson will be arrested when she is discharged from Vanderbilt.  Her bond is set at $250,000.

Leonard's funeral is scheduled for Saturday at Williamson Memorial Funeral Home at 3 p.m.

Visitation will be held on Friday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and one hour prior to the service on Saturday.

Memorials can be made to the American Cancer Society or Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.

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