QCS Managing Editor
Tucumcari Magistrate Judge David Joel Garrett delayed a decision until Thursday on whether Kelby Koile will face felony child abuse charges for allegedly leaving her 7-month-old baby alone in a hot car while she shopped for groceries.
Garrett’s decision to delay the decision followed a 90-minute preliminary hearing Monday in magistrate court.
Quay County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Thomas Blakeney’s witnesses included Tucumcari Police Cpl. Clay Huffman, who stopped Koile as she was driving away from the Tucumcari Lowe’s grocery store July 23 and made the arrest. Also, Roseanne Quintana, a Lowe’s employee, who called police.
Koile’s attorney Donald Schutte challenged the reliability of the officer’s and witness’s account of the incident on points like the actual temperature inside and outside Koile’s vehicle while the baby was left alone; the amount of time the baby was alone in the car, and the significance of their observations of the baby.
Huffman said he was called to the Lowe’s store at about 7:20 p.m. and caught Koile as she was leaving the parking lot. Huffman said Koile knew why she was being stopped and said she knew better.
Huffman said he observed windows of Koile’s car were rolled down about half-way and the baby was crying and red in the face. Huffman said he observed a temperature reading of 98 degrees on the First National Bank sign across the street from Lowe’s. He said he called District Attorney Tim Rose, who advised Huffman to arrest Koile and charge her with felony child abuse.
Schutte challenged Huffman’s temperature reading from the bank’s sign as not being established as reliable. He also questioned Huffman about whether Koile intended harm or showed reckless disregard for the baby’s health.
Quintana testified that she saw Koile enter Lowe’s and said Koile appeared to be in a hurry. The baby was alone in the car for 30 to 45 minutes. She said when she went to the car to check on the baby, the child was crying, but not hard. She said only the driver’s side front window was rolled down just a little, but she said she observed a temperature reading of 102 degrees.
She said she gauged her estimate of time because another employee started and ended a lunch break while the child was still left alone in the car and said she had a hard time deciding whether to enter the car or call police before she eventually called authorities.
Schutte challenged her reading of the temperature and her method of estimating time.
In his closing argument, Blakeney said Koile had exceeded a threshold between a negligent act and a criminal one by knowingly neglecting the child and possibly endangering the baby’s health.
Schutte argued while Koile’s actions may have been negligent, there was no criminal intent, arguing neither such intent nor reckless disregard were present. He said those elements are necessary to warrant a felony charge of child abuse.
Koile, he said, was “not in a bar, not drinking, not in a crack house. She was in the store to get some baby food.”
To justify a felony child abuse charge, he said, the jury would have to find that Koile was ”wholly indifferent to the welfare of the child.”
Schutte also asked the judge to reduce Koile’s $20,000 bond. Garrett delayed a decision on the amount of bond.
Following the hearing, Blakeney said Koile’s case is a hard one, due to lack of evidence of intent to cause harm to the child.
When evidence indicates the baby may have been left alone in the car for a long period of time, and in high temperatures, he said, it requires a “fair and full prosecution” of the case.
“We can’t check our common sense at the door,” he said.