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January 31, 2017

Confessed hit-and-run driver tries to apologize to young girl's family

Courts Hit And Run
Jayanna Powell Brian Hickey/PhillyVoice

Ayeshia Poole and James Powell hold a sign with a photo of their daughter Jayanna, who was killed in a hit-and-run in West Philadelphia on November 18, 2016.

He admitted he was driving the car that fatally struck an 8-year-old girl in November and wanted to apologize, but the victim’s family wasn’t having it.

On Tuesday morning at the Criminal Justice Center, 24-year-old Paul Woodlyn waived his right to a preliminary hearing in connection with the West Philadelphia hit-and-run that left young Jayanna Powell dead.

Before leaving Courtroom 306, though, Woodlyn’s attorney Michael Quinn said his client wanted to address Jayanna’s family, a request granted by Municipal Court Judge Wendy L. Pew.

“I apologize to the family for everything,” he said through the bulletproof glass separating the gallery from the lawyers’ tables in a courtroom commonly used for homicide hearings. “I hope they can forgive me.”

When Jayanna’s mother Ayeshia Poole jumped to her feet and pointed, it was clear that forgiveness was not in the cards.

“I don’t want that apology. He killed my 8-year-old daughter. What good does an apology do?” she said, alluding to the fact that Woodlyn fled and attempted to have his vehicle fixed while eluding capture in the high-profile case. “He wasn’t apologizing when he was hiding from police.”

Maintaining that Woodlyn’s sympathy is genuine, Quinn said the decision to waive the preliminary hearing came down to the fact that “there’s no benefit to a child having to testify,” which is what Jayanna’s older brother Hassan Cox, 12, was prepared to do Tuesday.

Awaiting the hearing, Ayeshia and Hassan took turns consoling one another as they sat next to Jayanna’s father, James, in the front row, all three wearing memorial sweatshirts.

“He killed my 8-year-old daughter. What good does an apology do?” – Ayeshia Poole

In the hours before the proceeding got underway, Hassan rested his head on his mother’s shoulder. When Woodlyn entered the room, he was comforting his mother.

Poole, who exchanged words with Woodlyn’s mother after seeing a sneer as they walked out of the courtroom, later said it was a relief for her son not to have to get on the witness stand and recount a day that will haunt this family forever.

“It’s good that he didn’t have to relive what he’s already witnessed, already experienced,” she said. “At least (Woodlyn's) not trying to say he didn’t do it, that he’s man enough not to say he didn’t hit her.”

As for what Hassan was thinking before the hearing, Ayeshia said he told her, “I’m still Jayanna’s protector.”

Brian Hickey/PhillyVoice

A memorial to 8-year-old Jayanna Powell, who was struck by a hit-and-run driver on November 18, 2016.

Jayanna was walking home from Lewis C. Cassidy elementary school when she was struck by a Nissan sedan near 63rd Street and Lansdowne Avenue in West Philadelphia around 3:15 p.m. on November 18.

The second grader, who was walking home with three siblings that Friday, would die hours later at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

When the driver took off from the scene, it sparked an intense investigation, a $45,000 reward contributed to by the city and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, and the police and community uniting to remember a young girl who died senselessly.

Woodlyn, who lived several blocks away from the hit-and-run scene, was arrested after a tip led investigators to an auto body shop in Frazer, Chester County, on November 30.

According to police, he confessed to being the driver upon arrest.

Woodlyn is charged with homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter and other offenses, including a reckless endangerment charge related to injuries that Jayanna’s brother sustained that tragic day.