Attorney Weighs In On Charges Filed Against Mom Whose Son Died In Florence

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Authorities in Union County have filed criminal charges against the mother of a 1-year-old boy who drowned last month in floodwaters caused by Hurricane Florence. 

The Union County Sheriff’s Office said Dazia Lee, 20, of Charlotte is charged with felony involuntary manslaughter and driving on a closed (or unopened) highway. Lee told news outlets that she saw barricades near a flooded bridge on Highway 218, but also saw other people drive across the bridge. 

In a statement, Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey called the situation “heartbreaking.” He added that the charges were deemed appropriate “after a very thorough investigation and taking all facts into consideration and applying the law.” 

Sheriff Cathey declined WFAE’s request for an interview today. Union County criminal defense attorney Bill Powers joined “All Things Considered” host Mark Rumsey to talk about the case.

Mark Rumsey: Powers, good afternoon.

Bill Powers: Good afternoon.

Rumsey: Does the charge of involuntary manslaughter in this case surprise you?

Powers: Oh absolutely. I was surprised to see it in the media accounts. Anyone in the area who followed the hurricanes and watched the media accounts of the tragedy of this young boy drowning, we were all heartbroken hearing it.

Rumsey: From a legal standpoint, are you surprised? If so, why?

Powers: Law is a complicated thing and there are aspects of the pure criminal law and criminal procedure. But there’s also an aspect of equity and when you think about common law type of offences — offense is known to the common man or person — there was this idea where there was a balancing process and I was surprised because I think the every person’s response to this would be to what end? Why are we going to this level? For what purpose are we seeking to prosecute this mother that’s already lost the love of her life? What are we trying to accomplish by doing that? What else can you do to this person that she hasn’t already don’t to herself, I guess, emotionally?

There are some very interesting factual aspects of this case I think deserve diving into.

Rumsey: And what would a couple of the top ones be?

Powers: Well, in watching the media accounts and hearing what Sheriff Cathey had said, one of the things that hit me right off the bat was this statement to the effect that, “Well, the signs were there.”

Rumsey: And they’ve talked about barricades, right?

Powers: Right, barricades.

The mother said that she saw other vehicles ostensibly driving from assuming the opposite direction and we don’t know. Maybe [she was] thinking it was safe or it that maybe, perhaps, someone had actually moved the barricade. You don’t know the background circumstances of what was in her mind and what choices she made.

Maybe she was concerned about being stuck in Charlotte, or subject to flooding in Charlotte, and had to get to Wadesborough and felt compelled. These are the type of factors that where everything we’re talking about is getting into someone’s mind.

Rumsey: Are you aware, in Union County or in the Charlotte area, of a precedent for a charge like this in a similar case? Although I’m sure every case is different.

Powers: I have seen instances where a child is left in a hot car and left in a vehicle. I have seen instances of that. I have not personally heard of one that meets exactly this nature and circumstances.

Rumsey: Bill Powers is a criminal defense attorney based in Charlotte. Powers thanks for talking with us.

Powers: Thank you very much, Mark.