A jury on Thursday found Deputy Dist. Atty. Kelly MacEachern not guilty of reckless driving in an incident in a crowded Saddleback Community College parking lot.
The South County Municipal Court jury returned the verdict on the misdemeanor charge after deliberating 55 minutes and listening to two days of dramatically conflicting testimony.
MacEachern, 39, cried on the witness stand Thursday as she recounted the July 20 incident in which a pedestrian, 22-year-old Saddleback student John Stevens, was struck in the knee.
He claimed she hit him with her car while trying to get to a parking space.
She denied hitting him and said she didn't see him until he was spread-eagled across the hood of her van and pounding on the windshield.
"I was panicked," she said. "This guy came out of nowhere. He's screaming. I couldn't tell what he was saying."
Sheriff's deputies initially recommended a charge of felony assault with a deadly weapon based on Stevens' account that MacEachern looked him in the eye as she drove forward.
But the charge was filed as a misdemeanor when the district attorney's office, realizing there would be a conflict in prosecuting one of its own, referred the matter to the state attorney general's office in San Diego.
MacEachern testified she was at the parking lot to take her three children to swimming classes. She said she became afraid when Stevens appeared in front of the van and then rolled off the hood, opened the front passenger door near her 4-year-old and began yelling that she had stolen the parking space from another driver.
MacEachern said she quickly gathered her crying and screaming children and hustled them to the pool, refusing to acknowledge Stevens and another driver who was yelling and swearing at her.
"I was scared. I was afraid I was going to cry, and I didn't want to scare my kids," she said. "I thought, 'If I just stay small and quiet, maybe he would go away.' "
The testimony of MacEachern, a mother of five and an Orange County deputy prosecutor for 12 years, contrasted with that of Stevens, who said she had cut in front of a honking motorist, struck Stevens and then refused to acknowledge their protests as she hurriedly walked to the pool.
MacEachern said she had thought the motorist, Renee Susan Thomas, was dropping someone off and was not interested in parking. And she may not have heard Thomas honking, she said, because she is partially deaf.
MacEachern also said the windows were up, the air conditioning was on and a "Little Mermaid" music tape was playing.