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Driver faces manslaughter in boy's death ; Accused of backing over 8-year-old leaving Niagara Branch Library

A Buffalo man accused of killing an 8-year-old boy last spring while teaching a friend to drive was jailed Monday after he was indicted on manslaughter charges carrying a possible 15-year prison term.

Lavon Turrentine, 20, of East Parade Street, was ordered held in lieu of $2,500 bail in the death of Tumaini Philbert on April 9 as the boy was leaving the Niagara Branch Library.

Prosecutors said Brianna Hightower, 19, of Wilson Street, was driving east on Porter Avenue when Tumaini was hit as he stepped into the street after coming out of the library.

Hightower and Turrentine -- who was teaching her to drive -- got out of the car after the boy was struck, according to police reports. Turrentine then allegedly got into the driver's seat and, in backing up, ran over the boy a second time, fatally injuring him. Both drivers remained at the scene until police arrived.

Hightower was charged Monday with misdemeanor reckless driving and was allowed to remain free on her own recognizance by State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang.

Defense attorney Daniel P. Grasso said Turrentine's family is trying to raise bail to have him released.

Until Monday, neither Hightower nor Turrentine had been charged, said Kelley A. Omel, chief of the Erie County District Attorney's Vehicular Crimes Bureau. She said Hightower faces a possible 90-day jail term, while Turrentine faces five to 15 years in prison if convicted of first-degree manslaughter. He also was charged with second-degree manslaughter.

Tumaini, a School 90 student, lived in a Niagara Street apartment with his parents, his five sisters and a brother. He grew up in a Tanzanian refugee camp before the family came to Buffalo in 2007. His parents said he cherished the educational opportunities he found here.

He spent a lot of time in the library and was leaving there with four siblings and other acquaintances when he was run down. Library staffers and School 90 teachers were among those who attended his funeral in Holy Cross Church.

e-mail: mgryta@buffnews.com