Charges dropped in girl's death

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Prosecutors have dismissed careless driving charges against a Cape Girardeau woman in an accident that killed an 8-year-old girl because they now think the Ford Escort the woman was driving may have been faulty.

Meanwhile, the family of Kaelyn McGill is considering a civil lawsuit against the Ford Motor Co., saying it wants whoever is responsible for its loved one's death to claim responsibility.

Morley Swingle, Cape Girardeau County prosecuting attorney, dismissed the careless and imprudent charge against Jennifer A. Golden, 19, on Monday. He said a New York metallurgist tested the car and thinks that the tie-rod assembly -- the rod that connects to the wheel and helps with the steering -- fractured prior to impact, which may have caused the accident.

"When we filed the charge, it appeared she had simply driven from her lane to the other lane and caused a collision," Swingle said. "That is, by definition, careless and imprudent driving."

If the tests are right, Swingle said, then the accident clearly was not Golden's fault. Regardless, the tests do clearly raise reasonable doubt, which is the standard prosecutors have to prove beyond.

"It's very possible that this wreck was not her fault," Swingle said.

The accident happened in February, when Golden was driving south on U.S. 61 near Sappington Road in Jackson when her car crossed the center line and struck oncoming northbound vehicles.

Golden's car 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.

Golden could not be reached for comment, but her attorney, Jeff Dix, said Swingle's decision was reasonable.

Only explanation

"Quite frankly, it was the only explanation any of us could come up with," Dix said. "Nothing else made sense."

The lawyer for the McGill's, John Cook, said that the family is considering a lawsuit against the Ford.

"We never planned to file until we're sure we have a good case," Cook said. "At this point, I certainly think we do."

He said that no determination on financial damages has been made.

"But the McGill's interest is far more in establishing the facts than it is in doing anything else," Cook said.

James McGill, Kaelyn McGill's father, said the family is relieved it wasn't Golden's fault.

"We're relieved knowing that she would have to live with this, too, if she was at fault," said McGill.

At first, McGill said he had no reason to think that Golden wasn't responsible. It was a sunny day.

Golden had only had a driver's license for a few months. Road conditions were good.

"But once the records came back and she was not drinking and not on a cell phone, well, that car's not going to go out of control by itself," McGill said. "As far as a lawsuit, it's not about money at all. We just want people responsible to admit it. We have not even discussed money."

McGill, still clearly distraught over his daughter's death, said he hasn't been able to move on with his life.

"This is four months into it and I can't work like I'm supposed to," he said. "Everything's put on hold. It changes everything. Her birthday was last week. It's hard. It's something you can't understand unless you've been through it."

335-6611, extension 137

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