Driver charged with manslaughter in Texas crash that killed 5 children
Monday, April 20, 2009
HOUSTON -- Police filed intoxication manslaughter charges Sunday against a driver who lost control of his car while using a cell phone, plunging the vehicle into a rain-filled ditch and killing five children inside.
Chanton Jenkins, 32, was in police custody facing four counts of intoxication manslaughter, one charge for each of the children found dead so far, said Houston police spokesman Kese Smith. Police said a relative told them Jenkins was the father of three of the victims.
Jenkins failed a field sobriety test following Saturday's crash, which occurred after heavy rain turned the ditch into a torrent. The results of a blood alcohol test were pending, Smith said.
It was unclear if Jenkins had an attorney.
The search was continuing for the missing victim, a 3-year-old girl. A dive team searched a bayou for the child Sunday afternoon, Smith said.
The bodies of three boys -- ages 4, 7 and 11 -- were found inside the vehicle. A body believed to be that of a 1-year-old girl swept away from the car was found Sunday.
The car crashed into the ditch about two miles from the point where it feeds into Greens Bayou, a waterway that empties into the Houston Ship Channel.
Jenkins and another adult escaped from the vehicle, along with a 10-year-old girl.
It took 2 1/2 hours to find the car in the ditch, which had filled with 9 1/2 feet of fast-moving water, and it was close to midnight before the current had eased enough for a dive team to recover the boys' bodies and discover that the girls had been swept away, Smith said. Police said the vehicle was carried 100 feet from the spot where it left the road.
Police said the adult passenger, who is Jenkins' brother, told police Jenkins was the father of four of the children, including the girl who escaped.
Jenkins' brother told police rain was falling heavily when Jenkins answered a cell phone. He said Jenkins lost control when he hung up the phone and the car flew down an embankment into the ditch, Smith said.
Family members and friends searched for the girls' bodies Sunday, walking with police officers along the ditch, by then no longer filled with raging waters. At least 30 family members and friends gathered at the accident site and at one point some gathered in a circle and prayed.
"We know they are not going to be found alive. But we're hoping that they can just find them," said Cheri Smith, 40, whose cousin is the mother of the two little girls. The girls, who were sisters, were cousins of the other children in the car, she said.
Cheri Smith said the family was focused on the search and not the circumstances that led to the accident.
At least one other traffic death was blamed on the powerful storms that swept across southeast Texas.