JACKSON, Miss. – The mother who left her three children in a vehicle that slid into a creek has been arrested and charged with negligent manslaughter.
Jenea Monique Payne, 25, was arrested around noon Monday and charged with two counts of negligent manslaughter and one count of child neglect, according to Leland Assistant Chief of Police Marcus Davis.
According to Davis, Payne told investigators she left her three children — Steve Smith, 4; Raelynn Johnson, 2; and Rasheed Johnson Jr., 1 — asleep in the car while she went inside a local quick stop. The car was turned off, Davis said, but Payne left the keys in the vehicle. Using witness accounts, the Clarion Ledger previously reported the car was in park and running at the time of the incident.
The 4-year-old was in a seatbelt in the front seat while the youngest two children were in carseats in the back, David said. Payne was in the store for “five to 10 minutes.”
Davis said investigators believe the 4-year-old put the keys in the ignition, turned the car on and put it in neutral, causing it to roll into the creek.
Davis could not explain why Payne would have left her sleeping children in a locked car with the keys inside or how the 4-year-old could have reached the brake to depress it in order to crank the SUV.
“We’ll look into it further,” he said.
Firefighters and bystanders rushed to save the children, jumping into the creek and trying to break the vehicle’s windows. They managed to free Raelynn but couldn’t save the two boys. The SUV was taken by the water river and found hours later with the bodies of the two boys inside.
Payne was charged for the children’s deaths, Davis said, because “she ended up leaving three minors unattended for a length of time when she went into a store. That’s illegal in itself. That was part of the negligence that led ultimately to their deaths.”
The case will now go to the district attorney’s office, Davis said, but the department did not consult with the DA before filing charges against Payne. District Attorney Dewayne Richardson could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.
Payne bonded out of jail Monday afternoon, Davis said. The bond amount was not immediately available. An attorney has not yet been appointed.
When asked about Payne being charged with manslaughter on what could possibly have been an accident, Davis said, “The charge ain’t the problem. It’s losing the children that’s the problem. That’s the horrible thing.”
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