By Diana Hefley Herald Writer
TULALIP — A second-degree murder charge has been filed against a Tulalip mother whose young daughter died of neglect.
Federal prosecutors allege that Christina D. Carlson left her 19-month-old daughter Chantel Craig and her other daughter, 3, alone in a parked car on the Tulalip Indian Reservation.
Chantel was unconscious and not breathing Oct. 8 when medical personnel were called. The girl was covered in feces and lice.
Prosecutors believe Carlson, 36, and her daughters were living in the blue Volvo for weeks. The car reeked of urine, feces and rotting food. Investigators also say there is evidence that Carlson was using drugs there, court papers said.
A few hours before Carlson asked a neighbor to call 911, she allegedly was sending text messages from the neighbor’s phone, attempting to score some drugs, according to court papers made public Friday in U.S. District Court in Seattle.
Carlson reportedly told police that she’d been trying to get drugs because her back hurt from sleeping in the car.
An autopsy revealed that Chantel was dehydrated and suffered from severe malnutrition, weighing 19 pounds. Her ribs were visible through her skin and her belly was sunken in. A healthy weight range for a girl Chantel’s age is between 19 1/2 to 27 pounds, according to an Everett pediatrician.
Chantel’s skin had sores and other signs of prolonged exposure to sweat and urine, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner concluded.
There were maggots in her diaper and lice in her hair, according to court papers.
Tests conducted on the older daughter’s hair revealed signs of exposure to opiates. The girl also suffered from severe dehydration and had bleeding wounds, likely from sitting in feces and urine for a long time. She also had lice and her blanket was infested with bed bugs and maggots, FBI Agent Neil Rogers wrote in the complaint against Carlson.
The Tulalip mother told police she hadn’t changed the girls’ diapers in four days because she had run out. Police found a full package of unused diapers in the car’s trunk.
In addition to murder, Carlson is charged with two counts of criminal mistreatment. Prosecutors allege that she withheld the basic necessities of life from her daughters.
Child welfare workers from the state and tribes had been trying to find Carlson for months.
The defendant’s mother had lodged a complaint with Child Protective Service on Dec. 2, 2011. State social workers were told that the girls had head lice and weren’t being fed properly. They also were told that Carlson frequently drank alcohol until she passed out.
Social workers eventually contacted Carlson and saw the girls, reporting that they appeared healthy.
State records show that social workers, despite not finding any signs of abuse or neglect during their visit, continued to try to help the family.
But the state closed its file on the case just hours before the girls were discovered in the car. Social workers wrote that the investigation couldn’t be completed because the family couldn’t be found. Relatives suspected that Carlson was dodging authorities. Her mother told authorities that Carlson refused to let her see the children.
Before the infant’s death, Carlson had three other children removed from her care because of her drug use and allegations of neglect. Investigators spoke with witnesses who had contact with Carlson and the girls in the days leading up to Chantel’s death.
One woman told police that on Oct. 5 she and two other women confronted Carlson about staying on the property. The woman told investigators that Carlson and a man were inside the car smoking what she believed was heroin. She said the girls were in the backseat. She said the car reeked of feces, but she couldn’t see the children’s condition because there was a blanket strung between the front and back seats.
Police also questioned the couple who live in a recreational trailer on the property where Carlson’s car was parked. They told police about Carlson using their phone and sending text messages that day. They said they gave Carlson milk, gas and cigarettes now and then.
The man said every time he drove to the bottom of the dirt road where Carlson was staying the girls were in the car. He said he’d offered to rent Carlson a motor home on the property. He said she may have stayed in it a couple of nights when it was cold.
Weather records show that Oct. 8 was a sunny day with a high of 71 degrees, Rogers wrote.
Carlson told detectives that she’d left her daughters for hours that day while she used the neighbor’s phone. She was adamant that three doors were open when she left the car.
Carlson returned back to the couple’s trailer after being gone about 20 minutes. She told the neighbor that something was wrong with Chantel. The woman called 911 and they went back to the car.
The woman said when they reached the car all the doors were closed except for the rear passenger door. Chantel and her sister were in their car seats. An emergency operator instructed the women to remove Chantel and to place her on the ground. Carlson began giving the girl cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Medical personnel raced Chantel and her sister to the hospital. Chantel did not survive the night.
Her sister later was taken to Children’s Hospital in Seattle, where she spent time in intensive care. She is expected to recover.
Tulalip Tribal police officers arrested Carlson. Three days later she was charged in Tulalip Tribal Court with criminal endangerment and failure to care for her children. The U.S. Attorney’s Office was asked to review the child’s death.
Since 2001, the Tulalip Tribes have assumed jurisdiction over criminal matters on the reservation involving Tulalip members and other people who belong to federally recognized tribes.
Federal authorities also have jurisdiction on tribal land to investigate and prosecute more than a dozen major crimes, such as murder, rape, manslaughter and felony child abuse or neglect.
FBI agents assisted Tulalip tribal police detectives early on in the death investigation.
Carlson made her first appearance Friday in U.S. District Court.
Meanwhile, state officials plan to conduct an investigation into Chantel’s death and to review how social workers handled the previous referral to Child Protective Services.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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