Fatality panel cites careless driving in girl's death

Friday, March 8, 2002

JACKSON, Mo. -- A Cape Girardeau woman has been charged with careless driving in an accident that killed an 8-year-old girl last month.

According to court records, an exhaustive investigation showed Jennifer Golden wasn't speeding, talking on a cell phone or driving while intoxicated at the time of the crash.

Golden, 19, was charged Thursday, two days after a meeting by the county's Child Fatality Review Panel, which investigates all unexplained deaths of victims under 18.

If found guilty of the misdemeanor, Golden may face a year in county jail and $1,000 in fines.

The death of Kaelyn McGill was one of three examined by the board on Tuesday, said Cape Girardeau County prosecutor Morley Swingle, who chairs the panel. The other two were infants, he said.

'Small steps'

The girl's father, James McGill, said at first he was upset at the seemingly minor charge. But when the details of the investigation were explained to him, he accepted Swingle's decision.

He said his family, which includes his wife, Sheila, and 4-year-old daughter Taylor are struggling.

"We're taking small steps toward getting on with our lives," he said.

According to a probable cause statement filed Thursday, Golden was driving south on Highway 61 near the intersection of Sappington Road in Jackson when her car crossed the center line and struck oncoming northbound vehicles.

Witnesses at the scene told police that Golden's car first veered to its right, then to the left, crossing the center line.

At the time of the crash, Golden had her driver's license for four months.

Trooper T.G. Pulley, an accident reconstructionist from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, reported she was driving between 53 and 56 miles per hour at the time of the crash. The posted speed limit is 55.

Golden's Ford Escort hit the McGill's Bonneville, which had been in the passing lane.

The impact knocked the McGill's four-door passenger car into a Ford Ranger driven by Joseph H. Ledgerwood of Jackson.

Kaelyn, who was seated behind the driver, was killed by the impact.

Golden's car then hit a Jeep Cherokee. The driver, Marcus Farrow of Cape Girardeau, suffered minor injuries, as did Ledgerwood.

Police took samples of Golden's blood and urine immediately after the crash, and tests revealed no signs of alcohol or drugs.

Records from her cell phone company confirmed that she was not using the telephone at the time of the crash.

Broken tie rod

Pulley said a tie rod was broken on Golden's vehicle, but concluded it must have broken on impact or it would have left gouge marks on the road's surface. No signs of mechanical failure were found in Golden's car.

The Cape Girardeau County Child Fatality Review Panel meets several times a year and is required by state statute to investigate juvenile deaths.

"It's the most depressing part of the job," Swingle said.

The law also requires all reports and records discussed in the panel's meetings to remain confidential due to the use of private medical records and the fact that juveniles are at the center of investigations.

A final report is sent to the department of health in Jefferson City. The results are examined each year for trends, and an annual report is made public.

abuchanan@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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