Birthday Party Tragedy: Ex-Commodore Faces Murder Charges in Swan Boat Club Crash


Amid the tranquil surroundings of Swan Boat Club in Monroe County, Michigan, known for hosting lively family shindigs and providing docking space for boat owners there unfurled a tragic narrative that has left the small community scarred. Centering around a 66-year-old woman, Marshella Chidester, this tale ended with unanticipated ruin and death, turning a joyful children’s birthday party into a scene of devastation.

The events of that fateful Saturday were revisited in a court hearing on a digitized platform, with Chidester in attendance, her right arm securely encased in a cast. She was accused of causing the calamity that resulted in bereavement and injury. Chidester sat silent and stone faced, amidst mentions of second-degree murder and other charges, which included a total of eight counts.

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Prosecutors alleged an inebriated Chidester drove her SUV recklessly into the Boat Club whilst a children’s party was in progress. The tragedy resulted in the deaths of an eight-year-old girl, Alanah Phillips, and her younger brother Zayn, aged four, leaving several others grievously injured.

Chidester, a onetime luminary of the club, occupying the prestigious position of commodore, was portrayed quite differently during the hearing. The prosecution, led by Jeff Yorkey, painted a picture of a defendant plagued by substance abuse, as borne out by connections to her family and friends.

Chidester’s attorney, Bill Colovos, sought to project a more sympathetic image of his client. He presented her as a victim of escalating health problems, including epileptic-like seizures, attesting that prior to the accident her beverage intake was limited to a lone glass of wine and an accompanying bowl of chili. Colovos passionately argued her case, declaring that she was far from monstrous and that unforeseen events sometimes spiral out of control.

The defence and prosecution played tug-of-war over Chidester’s bond amount, with Colovos proposing an amount of $100,000, which was overtaken by the $1.5 million recommended by Yorkey, a figure conformed to the victims’ families requests.

The debate over Chidester’s guilt or innocence will continue, as Yorkey countered her health claims with the fact she didn’t show signs of a seizure prior to the crash, and had a blood alcohol level considerably above the permissible legal limit.

Should Chidester manage to post bond, she will need to relinquish her passport, abstain from alcohol, and agree to constant monitoring. She will also be restricted from driving. A court hearing has been provisionally booked for the end of April, followed by a preliminary examination in early May.

The narrative of this once respected woman has taken a tragic turn, leaving Alanah and Zayn’s mother, Mariah Dodds, nursing serious injuries and nursing the loss of her two precious children. The incident has had far-reaching consequences, scarring every party-goer, including Raquel Smouthers, whose heartfelt testimony shook the courtroom, punctuated by the anguished declaration, “Nobody should ever have to go to a birthday party thinking that they’re gonna die.”

The outcome of this trial and the final chapter of this tragic saga remain to be written. In the meantime, the memory of that terrible day continues to haunt the Swan Boat Club and those who were there, their lives irrevocably altered by a split-second decision that turned a celebration into a tragedy.