Judge tosses charges against mother of kids drowned in SUV

Gavel

GREENVILLE, Miss. — A judge has dismissed charges against a 25-year-old Mississippi woman after two of her three children drowned when she left them in a locked car that rolled into a creek.

The Delta Democrat-Times reports Washington County Justice Court Judge Laverne Simpson threw out negligent homicide and child neglect charges Tuesday against Jenea Monique Payne following a hearing.

Simpson noted Payne’s lack of criminal history and ruled there wasn’t enough evidence to find her at fault.

Leland police arrested Payne after she left three children in an SUV while she went into a grocery store. She returned to find the Nissan Pathfinder had rolled into Deer Creek, which is across the street from the store.

It’s unclear whether the car was running or turned off. Leland Assistant Police Chief Marcus Davis said investigators believe Payne’s oldest son, 4-year-old Steve Smith, shifted the vehicle out of park, causing it to roll into the creek

Bystanders and a firefighter jumped into the creek and tried to break the SUV’s windows. They rescued 2-year-old Raelynn Johnson, but could not save Smith or 1-year-old Rasheed Johnson, who both drowned. Their bodies were recovered hours later when a tow truck pulled the Pathfinder from the creek.

Police said that they charged Payne because she left the children unattended.

“That’s illegal in itself,” Davis said earlier. “That was part of the negligence that led ultimately to their deaths.” When the Clarion Ledger asked Police Chief P.K. Nelson to comment Wednesday on the charged being dropped, he said only “that was the judge’s ruling.”

Prosecutors could still seek to indict Payne. Washington County District Attorney Dewayne Richardson previously said he was waiting for a report from Leland police before deciding what to do.

Payne’s attorney, Stan Perkins, could not immediately be reached for comment.

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