SEATTLE — Second-degree manslaughter charges have been filed against a mother and her boyfriend in connection with the accidental shooting of the woman’s toddler at a Tacoma gas station earlier this month.
Jahnisha McIntosh and Eric Vita committed a series of negligent acts that allowed McIntosh’s 3-year-old son to access the gun that he used to fatally shoot himself in the head March 14, said Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist.
The boy, Julio Segura-McIntosh, shot himself while he and his 8-month-old sister were in McIntosh’s minivan, which was parked at a Tacoma service station. Neither adult was in the vehicle.
“There are safe ways to store a gun in a car,” Lindquist said Wednesday. “This wasn’t one of them.”
When McIntosh, 22, pulled into a gas station near the Tacoma Mall shortly after midnight, Vita, 23, took the loaded 9 mm handgun from his waistband and tucked it under the front passenger seat before he went into the store, according to charging documents. Julio, who was in a booster seat, unbuckled his seat belt, made his way up to the driver’s seat and asked his mother for candy, prosecutors said. As he stood there, McIntosh took the handgun from under the passenger seat and tucked it under her own seat, according to the charges.
Vita returned to the car and began pumping gas while McIntosh got out of the minivan and went into the store, the charges said.
“Moments later, a gunshot came from inside the van,” according to a news release from the prosecutor’s office. “Julio was found on the front passenger floorboard with a gunshot wound to his head.”
McIntosh and Vita were scheduled to make their initial appearance on the manslaughter charges Wednesday afternoon in Pierce County Superior Court. If convicted as charged they each face a standard sentence range of 21 to 27 months in prison, Lindquist said.
Vita’s attorney, David Gehrke, told KOMO-TV that his client was being careful and that the shooting would not have happened had McIntosh stayed in the car. Gehrke said he did not think McIntosh should be prosecuted because the loss of her son’s life was punishment enough.
“This was a horrific tragedy,” Gehrke said. “Everybody involved is still shocked … and feels horrible about it.”
Vita has a concealed-weapons permit. He told investigators that he left the handgun in the minivan because the last time he was at a gas station the clerk spotted the handgun in his waistband and police were called, according to charging documents.
The toddler’s death was the third accidental shooting of a child within three weeks in Washington’s Puget Sound region.