Ballet student’s hit-and-run killer pleads guilty, sentenced to 5-to-10 years in prison

    Deandre Barnes went out to South Philadelphia on March 17, 2012 to celebrate his 19th birthday. Before he turned 20, Barnes stood in a courtroom and admitted to taking a human life that night.

    On his way home just before 4 a.m., he drove his Audi through a red light at Broad and Ellsworth streets at an estimated 50 miles per hour, doubling the speed limit.

    There, according to admissions placed on the court record Friday, he fatally struck 22-year-old Rock School ballet student Polina Kadiyska who was in the crosswalk after grabbing take-out at a nearby Chinese restaurant.

    After Barnes’ car crashed into parked vehicles, he and a friend ran away from the scene. Having returned a few minutes later to retrieve items from the trunk, but not attending to Kadiyska, Philadelphia Police caught up to them a few blocks away.

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    A witness confirmed the hit-and-run driver was Barnes, who had switched shirts after the collision, a gruesome event which was captured by a nearby business’ surveillance cameras.

    With a June trial pending, Barnes admitted guilt on Friday and apologized to the aspiring ballerina’s family members, who were unable to attend since they live in Bulgaria, which is where Kadiyska came from in pursuit of her dreams.

    Apologies offered

    Pleading guilty to homicide by vehicle while under the influence of alcohol — he registered a .156 BAC — and two other charges, Barnes was sentenced by Municipal Court Judge Glenn B. Bronson to five to 10 years in state prison.

    “I am very sorry for the tragedy that happened that night. I am sorry for everything that happened,” said Barnes, wearing a blue Department of Corrections shirt and jeans as seven relatives looked on in Courtroom 1007.

    “If her family was here, I would apologize for everything that happened to her and what they have gone through ever since,” he continued. “I know what I did was wrong, and I take full responsibility for it.”

    Brunson then deemed the actions for which Barnes took responsibility “reprehensible, horrible [and] cowardly” before abiding by the plea-deal recommendations worked out between Assistant District Attorney Kirk Handrich and defense attorney Zachary Shaffer.

    “The defendant, through his actions and driving so recklessly, ended her life tragically,” said Handrich. “Hopefully, the guilty plea means he is truly remorseful, recognizes what he did was wrong and it’s the first step in rehabilitation so the court will never see Mr. Barnes in front of it again. … I’m glad he took responsibility.”

    Civil-case pending

    For his part, Shaffer said Barnes — who said “See y’all later, love y’all” to family members ranging from elderly woman to young boy holding a Batman action figure as he was led from the courtroom — never denied his role in the tragic story. Details of the plea agreement took some time to work out, he said.

    “From the first day I got this case, he was willing to accept responsibility,” Shaffer said in the hallway outside the courtroom. “He wants to set this as right as possible.”

    Asked about the ongoing civil case relating to a South Philadelphia bar, not yet named publicly, which served him alcohol despite being underage, Shaffer said, “Whatever he can do to help the [Kadiyska] family, he is going to do.”

    Reached via Facebook instant messenger after the hearing ended, Kadiyska’s mother Daniela said her heart was broken.

    “Nothing,” she wrote, “will return my child.”

    WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal