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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - A Missouri woman was charged with first-degree murder late last month after she ran down another driver in the street because she was in a rush to make a car payment at the bank, according to court records.
Elizabeth Hope McKeown, 46, of Springfield, is also charged with armed criminal action in the death of Barbara Elaine Foster, 57, also of Springfield. McKeown is being held without bond in the Greene County Jail.
Prosecutors said in a bid to keep McKeown behind bars until trial that Foster was dragged more than 58 feet under McKeown’s 2007 black Mustang after the defendant struck her on purpose.
Foster’s brother, Robert Ayers, told the Springfield News-Leader that his sister had to be cremated because her body was too damaged for any other arrangements.
“(McKeown) is a potential danger to every single person in this community. She has demonstrated a disregard for human life and a willingness to murder an innocent person who was unknown to her with little or no provocation,” Assistant Green County Prosecuting Attorney Emily Shook wrote in her bond recommendation.
‘I slammed into her and cut her in half’
According to a probable cause affidavit, Springfield police officers were called around 5:20 p.m. Nov. 20 to the intersection of Campbell Avenue and University Street, where they found Foster lying in the roadway.
“Foster was unresponsive, appeared to have a severe head wound and it appeared her legs were broken,” the affidavit reads. “A short time later, Foster was transported to a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead.”
Witnesses at the scene told officers that the driver who hit Foster, identified by police as McKeown, tried to flee the scene, but other drivers used their vehicles to block her escape.
McKeown later told investigators she was on the way to the bank when the vehicle in front of her, driven by Foster, “wouldn’t go.”
“So I nudged it a few times and then I just decided to hit it full out,” McKeown told investigators, saying she “pushed on the gas as hard as (she) could,” according to the affidavit.
McKeown said Foster, who she called “the lady with the glasses,” was yelling at her, investigators wrote in the affidavit. According to Shook, McKeown would not speak to Foster or get out of the Mustang when Foster attempted to talk to her about what was at that point thought to be a fender bender.
McKeown told detectives what happened next.
“I tricked her, you know, (made) her think I was going to be nice, be still and everything,” McKeown said, according to the affidavit.
When Foster stepped in between the two vehicles to inspect the damage, McKeown said she “backed it up and then I slammed into her and cut her in half,” the document says.
One witness, identified only as Witness #1, was in traffic behind McKeown as Foster stood between the two cars. That driver told investigators McKeown and Foster were in the inside southbound lane of Campbell Avenue and the witness was a car length behind McKeown, in the outside southbound lane.
The witness talked of seeing McKeown back her car up and strike Foster’s vehicle.
“McKeown also struck Foster, causing her to fall to the ground,” the affidavit reads. “McKeown then accelerated and drove over Foster, which caused Foster to be stuck under the vehicle and dragged several feet until she was dislodged from underneath.”
When the witness sounded the horn to get McKeown’s attention, she ignored it, the document reads. McKeown had to stop behind a vehicle at the next intersection, at which point the witness pulled up beside her and rolled down the window to tell her she had run over Foster.
“Witness #1 stated McKeown still had her windows up on her vehicle but was mouthing the words, ‘I know,’” the affidavit reads. “When Witness #1 yelled at McKeown that she had just killed someone, McKeown shrugged her shoulders and put her hands up as if to gesture, ‘I don’t know.’”
McKeown then struck the vehicle in front of her, trying to push it out of the way so she could drive through the intersection, the affidavit says.
The News-Leader reported that McKeown, who as recently as June worked in real estate, has a background in nursing in Arkansas, where she lived before moving to Missouri. She was fired in 2006 from a hospital in Fort Smith for stealing prescription painkillers, the newspaper reported.
Fred Knight, general counsel for the Arkansas State Board of Nursing, told the News-Leader that McKeown was twice caught stealing Nubain in August 2006 by taking the medication from the hospital’s prescription system but not giving it to the patient it was intended for.
McKeown subsequently had her nursing license suspended but did not follow through on the conditions of that suspension, the newspaper said. Those conditions included a psychological evaluation, participation in a treatment program and random drug screening.
It was not clear if McKeown is suspected of being under the influence when she killed Foster.
Though McKeown also had a nursing license in Missouri, that one expired in 2013, the News-Leader reported.
‘The hardest part is just her not being here’
Foster, an optician at Eye Glass World, was on her way to do volunteer work when she was slain, coworker Logan Rader told KSPR in Springfield. She volunteered her time helping those who could not afford glasses or eye doctor visits, the news station said.
“We knew that she had been rear-ended because, actually, we spoke to her just before,” Rader said. “She said, ‘Hey, I just got rear-ended. I’ve got to let you go.’”
Coworkers heard about the fatal hit-and-run but never dreamed the victim was their beloved friend.
“We’re trying not to think the worst at that point,” Rader said. “‘That couldn’t be her. Of course it’s somebody else.’ It wasn’t something any of us were ready for.”
Rader told KSPR Foster was more like family than a coworker or friend.
“She helped so many of us here get through some tough times,” Rader said. “She was kind of like the aunt or mother or, in my case, I kind of saw her more as a sister. She was really caring, always taking you under her wing, giving you advice. It was a no-nonsense approach, always, but that's just who she was.”
According to her obituary, Foster is survived by her husband, a daughter, four granddaughters, her mother and two brothers.
Ayers described his sister to the News-Leader as “soft and sweet,” but also “feisty, strong (and) opinionated.” At least one friend made a similar statement as friends and customers alike mourned her in an online guestbook linked to her obituary.
Julie Guntharp, of Fontana, California, described Foster, a California native, as a “sweet, feisty woman with a heart of gold.”
“I fondly remember singing in harmony with Barbara on many occasions. My heart goes out to her loved ones. Prayers for comfort and peace,” Guntharp wrote.
The sentiment about Foster was the same back in Missouri.
“What a sweet lady!” Jenny A., of Branson, wrote. “She (was) always was so nice and helpful at the eye place when we went. We will miss her.”
“Barb, my heart hurts so much to hear that you are gone,” Nicki Lloyd, of Ozark, wrote. “I thank God that I had the chance to know you and see the joy you brought to so many others. I pray for peace and comfort for your family and I know I will see you again someday. Rest easy, beautiful lady.”
Ayers, who lost his sister two days before Thanksgiving, told the newspaper that, despite the tragedy, he was thankful for several things, including the witness to his sister’s killing who ran to her side and held her hand as she died.
He said he was also thankful for the witnesses who blocked McKeown’s Mustang so she could not flee, as well as the man who risked his own safety by running up to the car and filming her so police could identify her if she did escape, the newspaper reported.
Ayers made a point of inviting the bystanders who helped his sister to her funeral, which was held Friday. In lieu of flowers, her family encouraged people to donate to charity.
One of Foster’s favorite charities was the Free Medical Clinic of the Ozarks, Ayers said.
Rader and another coworker, Preston Abbott, said they are struggling to figure out how to move on when their friend’s presence is everywhere in the store where they all worked.
“The hardest part is just her not being here,” Rader told KSPR. “It’s just so jarring and I can’t really get over how unreal it is.”
“The last thing I said to Barb was, ‘Hey Barb, have a good day. Love you,’” Abbott said. “I’m at peace with that.”