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Mother accused of driving drunk when she crashed, killing 7-year-old son

Mother accused of driving drunk when she crashed, killing 7-year-old son

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By Diana Hefley
Herald Writer
EVERETT -- State child welfare workers received an anonymous tip in July that a Marysville mother was routinely driving her kids around while she was drunk.
Two months later, the woman's 7-year-old son, Isayah, was dead. The boy was crushed to death when he was partially ejected from his mom's Ford pickup truck.
Prosecutors allege that Kortnie Forbes was drunk when she ran off McRae Road outside Arlington and crashed into power poles and a large boulder. She reportedly told police she'd had two beers and two shots of rum before driving toward home with Isayah and her two other children, ages 5 and 3.
Tests revealed that her blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit, Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Tobin Darrow wrote in charging documents filed Tuesday in Superior Court.
None of the kids were in child safety seats, according to Snohomish County sheriff's investigators. A detective concluded that if Isayah had been in a child seat he likely would have survived the crash, court papers said.
Darrow on Tuesday charged Forbes with vehicular homicide for the Sept. 18 crash.
The prosecutor is expected to ask that Forbes, 25, be taken into custody on $100,000 bail at an arraignment hearing next month. She has prior infractions for seat belt violations and not having her children properly restrained, court papers said.
"She is a danger to her two remaining children as well as the public," Darrow wrote.
Records indicate that since 2003, state social workers have investigated allegations that Forbes has driven drunk with her children. The investigations in 2003 and 2006 were inconclusive and wound up closed, according to a fatality review conducted earlier this year into the boy's death. A 2007 investigation was closed without a finding.
Social workers at the time didn't have concrete evidence to support the allegations, said Sherry Hill, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Social and Health Services. Social workers need more than an anonymous report to make a finding of neglect, Hill said. Any legal action has to be supported by facts and approved by a judge.
That can be difficult in cases when the parent doesn't have a citation for drunken driving, said Paul Smith, a critical incident program manager with the state's Children's Administration.
Two months before the fatal crash, an anonymous caller reported that Forbes was driving intoxicated, every day, with her children in the car. The July caller reported that Forbes, who also is known as Kortnie Casch, began drinking early in the morning and throughout the day until she passed out. The children were reported to be left in filthy conditions and frequently had to take care of themselves, according to the review.
An investigation was opened and a social worker visited the home. The social worker noted that the home was extremely dirty. Forbes denied using drugs or alcohol and denied drinking and driving. Isayah didn't say anything that would support the allegations that his mom drove while drunk. Forbes agreed to take a urinalysis and tested negative for alcohol.
The review committee, however, noted that test didn't include a more detailed analysis that could have detected alcohol ingested within about three days of the test. That test is more expensive to administer.
Services were offered to Forbes but she declined. The social worker in August prepared to close the case. A supervisor requested follow-up work, including obtaining the children's medical records, criminal history checks and contact with staff at Isayah's school. The supervisor requested that a child protective team dig deeper into the case.
The office, however, had a backlog of cases for the local child-protective team. The concerns about Forbes were put on waiting list for attention in October 2010, according to the review.
Isayah didn't make it to October.
A witness told investigators she saw the pickup truck swerve off the road and strike a wooden power pole. The truck then slid broadside and smashed into a large boulder, which tipped the truck over onto the passenger side. The rear passenger door opened and Isayah slid partially out of his seatbelt and through the door. The truck crushed him.
Paramedics arrived to find Forbes inside the cab of the truck, holding her son's hand.
She had passed the other children to bystanders through her window.
Forbes reeked of alcohol and slurred her words, court papers said. She screamed at witnesses and rescue crews. She rushed at firefighters. A Snohomish County sheriff's deputy eventually handcuffed her and put her into the back of his patrol car. She asked if her son was dead.
Forbes told a deputy that a car had cut her off and caused her to lose control.
"She said the red car had two girls standing on the backseat so she avoided colliding with it in order to avoid killing them, and in the process killed her own son," Darrow wrote.
A witness reported said she saw no other vehicles on the road prior to the crash.
Hospital staff notified Child Protective Services about the crash. The other two children, who suffered minor injuries, were removed from the home.
A committee, including police, doctors and social workers, reviewed the state's involvement with the family. They concluded that the actions of the social workers were "reasonable" and followed department policy.
Despite the fatal crash, social workers a month later determined that the allegations about Forbes made in July were unfounded. Hill explained that the determination was based on the available evidence from July, before the accident.
Another investigation was opened because of the crash. That probe found that Forbes neglected her children.
"Unfortunately for Isayah, that came after the fact. It does protect the other two children," Hill said.
The fatality review team released its findings in January. The committee raised concerns about the delayed review by the child protective team and the inexperience of the social worker initially assigned.
They also discussed the impact of budget cuts, which eliminated placement of chemical dependency professionals in local offices. Those counselors helped assist social workers with families where substance abuse is alleged to have put kids at risk.
The committee made a number of recommendations, including making improvements in how social workers address parents with drug and alcohol problems.
"Calling CPS is a start. The family support to help people through these kinds of situations is critical. There are family interventions and other resources to get parents the help they need," Hill said.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463;
Story tags » DUICar accident

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