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Mississippi mom whose two young children drowned in her locked SUV will not be charged

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 3/21/2019 Brian Niemietz

a little girl holding a baby: Jenea Payne © Provided by Local News RSS EN-US Jenea Payne The 25-year-old Mississippi mom whose young sons drowned in a submerged SUV will not be charged for the boys’ deaths.

A judge ruled there wasn’t enough evidence to convict Jenea Payne of manslaughter and neglect following an apparent accident last week in which her Nissan Pathfinder rolled into a creek while she was grocery shopping.

“That was the judges ruling," Leland, Miss., Police Chief P.K. Nelson confirmed to the Clarion Ledger, which first reported the Thursday verdict.

Payne told authorities she’d strapped her 4-year-old son Steve Smith into the SUV’s front seat, while her 2-year-old daughter Raelynn Johnson and 1-year-old son Rasheed Johnson slept in baby car-seats in the back. She then went into a convenience store for “five to 10 minutes" and left her keys in the vehicle, which Payne said was not running when she did her shopping. Witnesses reportedly said the motor was idling as the SUV drifted away. Investigators believe Smith may have turned the keys in the ignition and shifted the automobile into neutral, causing it to roll.

First responders managed to break a window to save Payne’s 2-year-old daughter from drowning. They were unable to rescue the girl’s brothers when the SUV drifted into more dangerous waters. The boys’ bodies were recovered from the creek hours later.

Police arrested Payne at the time of her children’s death, but did so without consulting the district attorney’s office. Assistant police chief Marcus Davis said that leaving her three children unattended in a vehicle was reason enough to make an arrest at the time.

“That was part of the negligence that led ultimately to their deaths,” he told the Clarion Ledger.

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