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Is it neglect when a child isn’t buckled in and dies? Tampa police investigate

TAMPA — On the morning of Jan. 16, Terrika Young was taking her three children to day care when she made a left-hand turn in front of a speeding car, Tampa police say.

The cars collided, ejecting and killing Young’s 3-year-old daughter.

Young failed to yield the right of way, police said, and now they’re trying to determine whether she also neglected her children by failing to properly buckle them in. On March 5, they obtained a search warrant for the 25-year-old mother’s impounded car.

They’re looking for GPS information and other data, "not something we would do in every case," said police spokesman Steve Hegarty. "So, we do it when the case calls for it."

Whether Young’s actions constitute a crime, they certainly contribute to a grim nationwide statistic: Of the nearly 700 children 12 and younger who were killed in vehicle crashes in 2015, 35 percent were not wearing restraints, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Even more are at risk.

In one year, more than 618,000 children from infancy to age 12 rode in vehicles at least some of the time without a child safety seat, booster seat or seat belt, a CDC report said.

Representatives of two national organizations dealing with accident investigations say neglect charges often are contemplated if not always pursued when a child dies in a vehicle accident.

If proper restraint use would have prevented a fatal ejection, "then there is a case for arguing neglect," said Greg Vandenberg, administrator for the Nebraska-based Accreditation Commission for Traffic Accident Reconstruction.

"It’s something we think about every time a child isn’t properly restrained," said New Hampshire accident investigator Wade Bartlett, administrator for National Association of Professional Accident Reconstruction Specialists Inc.

• • •

Just before 8 a.m., Young was making a turn from 40th Street onto Osbourne Street in her 2009 Toyota Camry sedan when a white 2018 BMW M4C sedan slammed into the driver side, police said.

The BMW was driven by University of Tampa student Al Kaabi Abdulla Khamis, son of a diplomat from the Middle Eastern country of Qatar. It bore diplomatic plates.

The impact threw Young’s daughter, Chanel, from the car, causing traumatic brain injury and liver and spleen laceration, according to an arrest affidavit and the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s Office. The girl died in a hospital the next day.

Two children in the back seat suffered minor injuries, police say. Young’s mother, Terry Swain, in the passenger seat, received serious injuries. Khamis, 20, had a broken right arm, police said.

How fast Khamis was traveling is part of the investigation. Police pegged his speed at within the 45 mph speed limit for the roadway and said Young failed to yield to him the right-of-way when she made the turn.

But the search warrant says further investigation showed that the BMW’s Airbag Control Module/Event Data recorder placed his speed at 61 mph at the moment of impact and 75 mph 1.5 seconds before.

The difference in the findings about the car’s speed "is why we investigate," Hegarty said. Police are still trying to determine the cause of the crash.

Young and Swain declined to speak with the Tampa Bay Times.

• • •

Young has run into trouble with the law before over her driving.

In March 2015, she was cited by Tampa police for careless driving after colliding with another vehicle while making a lane change.

On Jan. 1, 2014, she was charged with felony aggravated battery for trying to hit her boyfriend with a car after he choked her, according to a police report. The charges were dropped after the boyfriend failed to cooperate, according to court records.

In addition, Young violated the terms of a learner’s permit in January 2011, was stopped doing 88 mph in a 70 mph zone in February 2012, and was caught on camera running a red light in Hillsborough County in October 2014.

The search warrant shows police now suspect child neglect.

"Due to the caregiver’s failure and omission to properly, completely, and/or fastening of the seatbelt restraint devices, the impact of the crash subjected the three minor children to the distinct possibility of serious bodily injury and/or death," Detective Steven Buchanan wrote in the search warrant affidavit request.

The day it was submitted, the warrant request was granted by Circuit Court Judge Wayne Timmerman.

Swain, Young’s mother, said in a police interview three days after the crash that everyone in the Toyota was wearing seat belts, according to Buchanan.

A post-crash inspection cast doubt on that claim.

The seat belt for the booster seat was found in its unused, normal position, Buchanan said — along the rear passenger seat of the vehicle.

Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman

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