Woman already doing time charged in 2013 death of teenage girl

29-year-old woman was in state prison for previous hit-and-run, burglary

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – More than three years after 15-year-old Haley Smith was struck and killed while walking home from a grocery store, the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office has charged a woman already serving time for a hit-and-run with causing Haley's death.

Tiffany Higginbotham, 29, has been arrested a dozen times in St. Johns County since 2009 and was serving time for leaving the scene of a 2014 accident in St. Augustine when she was charged Monday with leaving the scene of the accident that caused Haley's death.

Higginbotham appeared without a lawyer before a judge Tuesday morning and bond was set at $100,000 on the new charge.

Smith was struck by a car Nov. 17, 2013, on Kenton Morrison Road, just south of State Road 16. Haley was rushed to UF Health Jacksonville, where she died.

It was three weeks before Hailey would have turned 16.

Deputies said tips that came in after a follow-up story on Haley's death in the St. Augustine Record. St. Johns County Chief of Investigations Brian Lee said. Higginbotham was driving her boyfriend's Chevrolet S-10 pickup, and paint samples from that vehicle matched evidence at the scene.

"I told her that we did we didn't give up, because I think that's important," said Haley's mother, Jo-Lee Manning. "It took the right information getting to the right people at the right time."

Deputies found Higginbotham already in prison serving a three-year sentence for leaving the scene of an accident with injuries in 2015 in St. Augustine and a 2014 robbery charge. She was due to be released this June.

Over the past 15 years, Higginbotham has also been charged with grand theft, robbery, domestic violence, drug possession, exploiting the elderly and several traffic violations.

IMAGES: Higginbotham's SJC criminal history


"We hope the arrest and subsequent prosecution will bring some comfort to the family," State Attorney R.J. Larizza said.

Family, friends and the St. Augustine community gathered last fall to remember Haley, who was described as a beautiful girl who was the light in so many people's lives. 

The pain of Haley’s death hasn’t dampened what her mother loved about her, saying she was full of life and made everyone feel like they were her best friend.

Manning said there were four hit-and-run deaths the year Haley was killed, and even more the next year. She said she plans to be trained to become a victim advocate and help other families get peace.

Even as Manning mourns the loss of Haley and hopes that Higgenbothem never has a chance to do this again.

"My hope (is) that she will get her life together and make better decision for her children," Manning said.

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