Argument over gas money leads to 18-year prison sentence

TACOMA, Wash. - A judge has sentenced Denise Larkins to more than 18 years in prison after causing a hit-and-run crash that killed Michelle Johnson of Burien.

An argument in the street over gas money is what detectives say sparked the argument between friends that lead to the deadly crash December 16, 2011.

KOMO News spoke with several witnesses who believe the hit-and-run was intentional. They say the driver waited until her friend stepped off the curb before she gunned her engine.

"What drew my attention was the argument out in the street," says one witness, Mike Baugh.

The shouting match outside was enough to get Baugh to call 911.

Rhianda Dillon heard the commotion, too - and stepped out to see a few women arguing near an SUV. The argument was over gas money - and Dillon says at least one woman seemed drunk.

"The drunk lady, the mother punched the driver in the face," Dillon says.

Dillon says the woman who threw the punch then headed down the street on foot. The driver she hit followed in an SUV.

"It moved over into the oncoming lane and was pacing her, like they were talking back and forth," Baugh says.

The shouting continued down South 43rd Street. But when the woman stepped into the intersection at South J Street, witnesses say the SUV ran her down.

"Whoever's driving the SUV hits the gas, cranks the wheel hard left, and I watch this lady get hit," Baugh says.

Another neighbor, Bob Johnson, said, "I heard like a thunk, almost like a watermelon or something smashing, and then squealing of the tires."

The crash left Johnson dead in the street.

Records show the victim had an extensive criminal history that included assault, drugs and prostitution.

"It was just total shock to come out there and see it," said Bob Johnson, who is no relation to the victim.

Neighbors watched the SUV speed away - but police say Larkins turned herself in a short time later. Larkins was then booked into Pierce County Jail on suspicion of premeditated murder.