November 28, 2007 in Idaho

Vehicular homicide charge possible in infant’s death

By The Spokesman-Review
 

State law

Washington state law says a driver can be charged with vehicular homicide for causing the death of another person by driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol; in a reckless manner; or without regard for the safety of others.

A Coeur d’Alene mother could face vehicular homicide charges in the death of her 3-month-old daughter because the infant’s car seat was not properly installed when her mother caused a crash in Spokane.

Chloe Jensen never recovered from head injuries sustained in the 2006 collision and died 10 months later, according to a Spokane police search warrant for the baby’s medical records.

If 23-year-old Eileen Jensen is prosecuted, investigators say it could be the first time in Washington that a parent is held accountable for the death of a child stemming from an improperly secured car seat.

“Usually the crash is someone else’s fault,” said Spokane police Cpl. Dave Adams, who is leading the investigation. Adams researched Washington case law and conferred with authorities and could not find a similar case.

On March, 22, 2006, Jensen was driving her 2001 Honda Accord on North Freya with her three daughters, Chloe, 2-year-old Peighton and 3-year-old Makennah.

Investigators say she caused a three-car crash by running into the back of a minivan stopped in traffic.

Chloe was riding in a loosely installed rear-facing car seat in the front passenger seat. The car’s airbags deployed, which – combined with the impact of the crash – caused her injuries.

“We teach never, ever, ever to put a child rear-facing in the front seat where there’s an airbag,” said Spokane police Officer Jennifer DeRuwe, who teaches parents how to properly use child safety seats.

According to child safety seat laws, a parent is supposed to put a child in the back seat whenever possible.

“If you have no other option, put them in the car seat facing front and move the seat back as far as possible,” DeRuwe said.

Jensen was cited with negligent driving and improper restraint of her children in April 2006. Police previously have said that Peighton was in the back seat in a car seat, apparently unsecured, and that Makennah, who should have been in a car seat, was instead wearing a seat belt.

Chloe’s seat was secured with just a lap belt, according to the search warrant, which was filed in support of the investigation into possible criminal charges.

A Spokane officer who responded to the crash noticed a car seat’s lockable base, which is normally used to securely fasten the child seat, in the car’s back seat, the search warrant document states.

The baby died Feb. 12. According to the search warrant, Chloe’s primary doctor determined the death was “due to respiratory failure/arrest due directly to the severe closed head injury she received as a result of the collision.”

Jensen, who was interviewed by Adams on Tuesday, couldn’t be located later in the day by a reporter seeking comment.

Adams said once he’s completed his investigation, he’ll send it to the Spokane County prosecutor’s office for a decision on whether to charge Jensen with a crime.

He wouldn’t discuss specifics of the case but said, “We have never done anything like this before. This is a new one for everybody.”

DeRuwe said she’s used what happened in Jensen’s crash to teach parents about the dangers of an improperly installed safety seat.

“I deal with parents all the time who think they are doing the right thing (with car seats), and they aren’t,” DeRuwe said.


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