February 18, 2009

Post Falls mom pleads not guilty in daughter’s death

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Dan Pelle photo

Supporters of Eileen Jensen, including Michelle McLuskie, left, sister Christina Jensen, getting a hug, and Carla Schauer, right, gather at the Spokane County Courthouse on Feb. 18, 2009, after Eileen Jensen was arraigned on a charge of vehicular homicide for the death of her infant daughter. Jensen pleaded not guilty.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Eileen Jensen pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a vehicular homicide charge in the death of her infant daughter.

Two-month-old Chloe Jensen was severely injured in a crash nearly three years ago while riding in the front seat of her mother’s car. The child was in a safety seat, but suffered head trauma from the impact of the car’s air bag and died from her injuries 11 months later.

Washington law requires all children under 13 to ride in a vehicle’s rear seat when practical. Authorities filed the charge, a felony, against the mother earlier this month.

“It was a terrible accident,” said Jensen’s sister, Christina Jensen. “She (Eileen) has nothing to hide.”

When the Post Falls woman appeared in Spokane County Superior Court Wednesday morning, she was backed by more than 30 supporters who wore pink T-shirts with the message: “Eileen and her family have been punished enough,” on the front; and, “Drop the charges,” on the back.

“Prosecuting the mom is not going to bring the child back,” said John Clark, Eileen Jensen’s attorney. “The family has suffered enough with the death of the child.”

Jensen’s attorney explained Chloe had been placed in the front seat of the car because she had a respiratory virus that made her prone to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Her breathing had to be monitored at all times, Clark said.

On March 22, 2006, Jensen was driving her 2001 Honda Accord on North Freya Street with her three daughters. Jensen caused a three-car crash when she smashed into the back of a stopped minivan, according to court records. Chloe was in the front seat while Jensen’s other daughters were in the back, police said. Witnesses told police the 24-year-old was speeding around in heavy traffic when she rear-ended a mini van.

Police said the car seat was improperly installed – placed on a pile of notebooks instead of its lockable base, and held in place with the car’s seat belt. Investigators said Jensen’s other two daughters were not properly restrained.

“It’s a terrible tragedy. She relives it every day or her life,” Clark said.

If Jensen is convicted, it could be the first time in Washington a parent has been held accountable for the death of a child stemming from an improperly installed car seat. Those type of deaths are rare, thanks in part to a major campaign in the 1990s about the dangers of air bags to children.

“It’s unfortunate we don’t have a misdemeanor vehicular homicide option for situations that don’t really warrant a felony,” Clark said. “We acknowledge it’s a difficult case for all parties involved. Nothing good will come on this case by way of the criminal justice system.”

When Jensen crashed, she was not intoxicated or under the influence of any drugs, Clark said.

Jensen told police she was sleep-deprived. She claims she blacked out and does not remember the crash. She has no criminal record, Clark added.

Jensen’s mom, Julie Jensen, said: “What Eileen needs now is people’s support.”


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