A Jackson County judge is set to rule on whether trial awaits Sandra S. Triebel, a 47 year-old Kansas City woman facing a charge of involuntary manslaughter. The charge is connected to a 2009 drunk driving crash that claimed the life of 16 year-old Laura B. Reynolds - but Triebel wasn't driving. She wasn't even in the vehicle when it crashed. In a landmark case, Triebel is accused of supplying alcohol to minors at a Halloween party, just before one of her underage guests got behind the wheel and caused the fatal accident.
"Triebel began a chain of events that ultimately resulted in the death of Laura Reynolds," said Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, according to the Kansas City Star. "The message here is that adults supplying alcohol to underage teens should not be tolerated."
In fact, it was Kenneth Blake, then 19, who was driving: Reynolds was his passenger when the accident occurred at U.S. 24 and Blue Mills Road. Blake's BAC was 0.20%, over twice the legal limit. He pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and two assault charges, and is currently serving a six-year prison sentence. In fact, it was Blake's plea and sentencing which prompted prosecutors to pursue the charge against Triebel, who was initially arrested in June 2010. She is also charged with supplying liquor to a minor and allowing a minor to drink intoxicating liquor on her property.
Prosecutors allege that Triebel was criminally negligent by hosting the drinking party for her daughter and a group of friends; by purchasing alcohol with money supplied by one of the minors who attended the gathering; and by preparing and serving drinks to the group. According to Kansas City police, Triebel admitted to having an underage drinking party, but said she "felt like she was in control of the situation," reports KCTV 5. In addition, "Triebel stated she knew [Blake] was drunk when he left the house and didn't call police" because she hoped he was driving home.
Further, Baker argues that Triebel's behavior was a "contributing proximate cause" of Reynolds' death. While the case against Triebel is the first of its kind in Missouri, state law does recognize this concept, which, for example, "allows prosecutors to charge a burglar with murder if an armed homeowner kills the burglar's accomplice during the crime," reports the Star.
"A reasonable standard of care for children is much higher than what Ms. Triebel exhibited," Baker said in court. "A really wonderful human being lost her life for it. She was a promising teenage girl and she lost her life because of all the actions Ms. Triebel put in play."
In response, the defense maintains that it will be impossible for prosecutors to build a successful case against Triebel, because they cannot demonstrate that she in fact caused the accident. In the past, criminal courts in Missouri have assigned responsibility for alcohol-related injuries and deaths to the party who consumed the alcohol, not the party who supplied it. "We don't hold people responsible for a third party's actions," said defense attorney Tiffany Leuty. "This is nothing new. People serve underage people all the time in Missouri, but we don't have another person charged with involuntary manslaughter."
The case now awaits the ruling of Judge Peggy Stevens McGraw, who is expected to decide the issue in the near future.