NORTHFIELD — Kimberley Peschi wiped away tears as she explained to the prosecution the series of events that led to charges against her of simple assault of a student.

“I can tell you this was an accident, and I can tell you never ever in my life would I intentionally hurt a child,” said Peschi, crying, during the final day of her trial Friday. “I play it over in my head every single day.”

Peschi, 41, of Galloway Township, a music teacher at the Belhaven School in Linwood, is accused of kicking down a chair as a sixth-grade student was leaning back in it, causing him to fall and hit his head on the cafeteria floor Feb. 9, 2017.

The charges are being pursued by the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office but heard before Northfield Municipal Judge Thomas Maguire.

The trial began in December and was supposed to continue in January, but that appearance ended as quickly as it began after the defense called for a continuance to review additional evidence.

Several witnesses testified Friday, including the student, identified as M.M. by the court.

M.M. said he was leaning back in the chair during lunch that day when he felt force on the back of the chair and then was on the ground. He said he didn’t know it was Peschi who had knocked him down until he was told by his friends in the cafeteria after he fell.

“I flew back and I looked up and Ms. Peschi was standing over me and said, ‘That’s why chairs are for sitting in and not leaning,’” M.M. testified, adding Peschi didn’t offer to help him up and walked away after.

He said he had a headache after the fall and went to the hospital the next day for a CT scan, although he didn’t suffer any serious injuries.

Peschi’s recollection of events was far different from the students’. She said she had noticed M.M.’s lunch table was very rowdy, so she walked over to correct their behavior.

“I made a beeline to the table and began to reprimand them for being rowdy,” Peschi said, noting that M.M. was rocking in his chair. “At the same time that I was reprimanding the kids, I took my foot to put on the back of the chair to upright it.”

Peschi said she was afraid M.M. was going to fall and that she wasn’t sure why she used her foot, but it was a gut reaction.

“As soon as my foot tapped the chair, the chair fell sideways and Michael rolled. … I leaned over and asked him if he was OK. … He nodded that he was OK. … Then I asked him again looking for a verbal response,” Peschi explained to attorney Robert Agre. “He told me that he was OK and at that point in time he went back to his chair.”

Belhaven Principal Susan Speirs also testified Friday. Speirs said she was notified of the incident by a faculty member and spoke with Peschi that afternoon.

“She said it was just a joke gone bad,” Speirs said.

She said the next day when they spoke again, Peschi told her she was trying to correct the chair the child was seated in.

Agre questioned Speirs’ recollection of the events as she didn’t take notes of the conversation with Peschi. He also pointed out that the student did not suffer any trauma or concussion from the incident.

Six character witnesses testified in Peschi’s favor, including former Municipal Court Judge H. Robert Switzer, who attends church with Peschi. Switzer said he believed Peschi was both law-abiding and truthful.

After testimony was complete and the defense rested, Maguire directed both Chief Assistant Prosecutor Seth Levy and Agre to submit their closing arguments in the form of briefs before April 1 so he can begin his deliberations.

A decision won’t be rendered until after that date.

Meanwhile, Peschi, who has been suspended without pay from her teaching position in Linwood, is facing tenure charges filed last April by the Linwood Board of Education.

Contact: 609-272-7251 CLowe@pressofac.com Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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