Nearly two years ago, Carson Crowder Williams was found in his bassinet with a plastic grocery bag against his face. The medical examiner couldn't determine how the boy died. However, an unsafe sleeping environment was noted as a risk factor in the boy's death.
Carson had been placed on his stomach in the bassinet. His mother reported hearing a crinkling sound when she put him down for a nap. She told detectives she believed the plastic bag had been under a pillow case being used as a sheet in the bassinet. Sometime while the boy was sleeping, the bag worked itself loose, according to court records.
Snohomish County sheriff's detectives investigated Carson's death. They recently received the results of some laboratory tests that examined evidence collected at the scene. Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Lisa Paul decided last year that she likely wouldn't charge the mother. Paul publicly confirmed her decision after the lab results came back late last month.
The deputy prosecutor said without a cause of death she wasn't convinced a jury would convict the mother of a crime, such as manslaughter. No medical expert would be able to testify that the boy suffocated because of the bag, Paul said.
"The lack of causation was the biggest issue," she said.
Additionally, Paul said she wasn't confident that jurors would agree that the teen knew the risks of unsafe sleeping conditions. Paul would have had to prove the mother was aware of and disregarded the dangers of leaving her son on his stomach in a bassinet with a bag.
"I don't think we could get 12 people to agree she was negligent," Paul said.
The boy's death has brought in to sharp focus the need for more education for parents and other caregivers about providing a safe sleeping environment for infants, experts said.
Each year in Snohomish County unsafe sleeping conditions are identified as a risk factor in up to 23 sudden and unexpected baby deaths, said Deborah Robinson, an infant death investigation specialist, who teaches at the state's Criminal Justice Training Commission.
"We're losing a kindergarten class size of infants to deaths that are preventable," she said.
Child advocates are hoping a program in Snohomish County is helping to prevent even more tragic deaths. The county was one of six test sites in the state for the national program "Cribs for Kids." The initiative offers free portable cribs to parents who can't afford them. In a year, the six pilot sites have handed out about 100 portable cribs.
Through a grant, a limited supply of portable cribs are available at Dawson Place, the county's child advocacy center in Everett, where Paul works, prosecuting crimes against children. Monroe and Bothell police also have free cribs for families in need.
Police officers and firefighters frequently end up in people's homes and may be able to identify infants who are at risk for death because of unsafe sleeping conditions. Lawyers with the Snohomish County Public Defender Association also have access to the cribs to provide to clients who may need a safe place for their children to sleep.
"We're always dealing in the tragedies of life, but this is something we can get in front of, maybe help keep a kid safe," said Robinson, the director of the public safety initiative for Cribs for Kids.
Along with the cribs, the program works to educate parents about creating a safe place for infants to sleep.
Experts advise against placing babies on their stomachs to sleep. Parents also are encouraged to place babies on firm surfaces, such as a safety-approved crib. Experts also advise against using pillows or loose bedding in cribs to reduce the risks of suffocation. To prevent babies from overheating, parents are encouraged to dress their children in light sleep clothing and keep the room at a temperature that is comfortable for an adult.
"If we can eliminate known risks for children, we can significantly impact lives," Robinson said.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cribs for Kids
For more information about the Cribs for Kids program, visit www.cribsforkids.org. Donations to purchase cribs for Snohomish County families can be at Dawson Place, 425-388-7497.
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