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Mother pleads not guilty in young daughter’s death

Thu., Feb. 19, 2009

Infant was in loosely secured car seat during crash

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 Spokane crash nearly three years ago while riding in the front seat of her mother’s car. The baby, who was in a loosely installed child safety seat, suffered head trauma from the impact of the car’s air bag and died from her injuries 10 months later.

Washington law requires all children younger than 13 to ride in the rear seat when practical. Authorities filed the felony charge against the mother this month.

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

The Post Falls woman appeared in Spokane County Superior Court on Wednesday backed by more than 30 supporters. The supporters wore pink T-shirts reading “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, Jensen’s attorney. “The family has suffered enough with the death of the child.”

Jensen’s attorney said Chloe was in the front seat 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, 2007, with her three daughters in the car, Jensen smashed her 2001 Honda Accord into the back of a stopped minivan, causing a three-car crash, 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 in heavy traffic when she rear-ended the minivan.

Police said the car seat was improperly installed – placed on a pile of notebooks instead of its lockable base, then 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 deaths are rare, thanks in part to a major campaign launched in the 1990s to warn parents 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 said she blacked out and does not remember the crash. She has no criminal record, Clark added.

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

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