SPOKANE — A mother has been charged with vehicular homicide after Spokane police said her infant daughter was critically injured when her car seat was improperly installed in the front seat of a vehicle.
Spokane County prosecutors say this could be the first such case in Washington, which requires all children under 13 to sit in a rear seat when practical.
In March 2006, the car driven by Eileen Jensen, 24, of Post Falls, Idaho, crashed into a stopped vehicle in Spokane. Her daughter Chloe, 3 months, was in the front seat in a rear-facing car seat.
The passenger-side air bag deployed during the crash, causing extensive head trauma to Chloe, police said.
The child died 10 months later, but “her brain stopped developing that day,” said Spokane police Officer Teresa Fuller.
In a court document, Jensen said she “blacked out” just prior to the collision.
The charge was filed in Spokane County Superior Court on Tuesday, said Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Mary Ann Brady. Jensen has not been arrested and will be arraigned Feb. 18.
“We reviewed police reports, looked at the statute and discussed it with my supervisor,” Brady said. “It fits the criteria” for the charge.
On March 22, 2006, Jensen was driving in Spokane with her three daughters. According to court records, Jensen caused a three-car crash when she smashed into the back of a stopped minivan. Chloe was in the front seat while Jensen’s other daughters were in the back, also improperly secured, police said.
Putting a child’s head in front of an air bag is like “putting the child’s head in front of an explosion,” said Alan Korn, director of public policy for Safe Kids USA, a national group.
Child deaths caused by air bags during collisions are extremely rare, Korn said.
After the crash, a witness told police that Jensen said she had the baby in the front seat because she only planned to drive a couple of blocks, according to a statement of facts filed in court Tuesday. Witnesses also told police Jensen was driving erratically just before the crash, according to the court document.
Jensen said she was sleep-deprived, which may have contributed to her blacking out, court documents said. She also told police she regularly put Chloe in the front seat.
Washington state law says a driver can be charged with vehicular homicide for causing the death of another person by driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, in a reckless manner, or without regard for the safety of others.