9OYS Continuing Coverage
Charges dismissed, questions remain in cases of mothers who drove into washes
Reporter: Kevin Keen
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Why have a law if it's not going to be enforced? That's a question many 9 On Your Side viewers are asking after prosecutors dropped initial charges against two mothers who, at different times, drove their children into flooded washes. First, 9 On Your Side went to the Pima County Attorney’s Office for answers. Now, KGUN9 turns to the sheriff’s department.
Pima County deputies arrested 18-year-old Tiffany Sherman and 29-year-old Edna Encinas after rescuing them and their children from running washes last month. Deputies said road closure signs were posted.
Both were first charged with at least child abuse, a felony, for putting their children in danger. The Pima County Attorney's Office told 9 On Your Side Wednesday there wasn't enough evidence to keep those charges against the mothers, but couldn't be more specific.
“If we as prosecutors do not believe the evidence is sufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, we can't go forward,” chief criminal deputy Kellie Johnson said.
What evidence is there in cases like these? 9 On Your Side went to the Pima County Sheriff's Department.
“We gather facts and circumstances by talking to witnesses, by documenting our own observations--the deputies that are on scene or any other investigator who's on scene,” Deputy Tom Peine said. “Then we also talk to the people who potentially violated a statute.”
Again, ultimately, the county attorney's office decided there wasn't enough of that evidence to keep the initial charges in Encinas’ and Sherman’s cases.
Reporter Kevin Keen asked Johnson, “Could law enforcement have done a different or better job collecting evidence?” “Each case is different,” she answered. “You don't want to get into specifics here because the case can always be reviewed if law enforcement obtains more evidence. But here, law enforcement did what was appropriate under the circumstances as they found them during the investigation.”
Some 9 On Your Side viewers are satisfied with the outcome at this point.
On the KGUN9 Facebook page
, viewer Shannon Feldman wrote: "Seriously people we are not perfect! Huge mistake on their part, but do you really think they are the only mothers that have driven through a flooded wash?! Please. Hopefully they learned a big lesson. Now life goes on!"
Heather Duke wrote: "People make mistakes..."
Keen asked Peine, “How does the sheriff's department respond to someone who feels that way?” “It brings me back to the description earlier,” the deputy answered. “We have to be lead by what is described in the law.”
So, what now?
The county attorney's office continues to investigate Sherman’s case, and Encinas’ could be re-visited if there’s new evidence.
With the initial charges dropped, 9 On Your Side asked the sheriff's department if it'll change the way it handles future cases like these -- if anything will be done differently.
Peine said, “Absolutely not.”
The department said deputies will continue to use their discretion and make arrests when necessary. The attorney's office then decides to prosecute or not to prosecute.
Many viewers have asked if the state's stupid motorist law applies in these cases. The sheriff's department has said with the dismissing of the initial charges, it will consider revisiting the cases. That could lead to the department recommending those civil charges.