Hearing begins for Craig woman charged in Christmas Eve fire death | SteamboatToday.com

Hearing begins for Craig woman charged in Christmas Eve fire death

Clay Thorp
Craig Press
A house fire in the Meadows subdivision in Craig claimed the life of 3-year-old Lane Ernest Cullen on Christmas Eve in 2018.
Doug Slaight/For Craig Fire Rescue/Courtesy

CRAIG — A Craig mother facing a negligent homicide charge in the fiery Christmas Eve death of her son, 3-year-old Lane Ernest Cullen, took the stand Monday in an evidentiary hearing in Judge Michael O’Hara’s Moffat County courtroom.

O’Hara ruled Monday he would suppress some police interviews and statements made by family and friends of defendant Vanessa Allison Jenkins regarding her possible drug abuse before the fire and would limit the scope of statements prosecutors can make to a jury in regard to Jenkins’ supposed prior drug use.

O’Hara also denied motions by Jenkins’ defense team to suppress recorded admissions of guilt she supposedly made to police and will rule on a motion to suppress a search warrant for Jenkins’ vehicle after reviewing case law and precedents brought by Jenkins’ defense team.

According to arrest records, 26-year-old Jenkins, aka Vanessa Jenkins Day, was arrested April 3 on a charge of child abuse negligently causing death.

A 13-page, redacted arrest warrant affidavit, obtained by the Craig Press in April, details the circumstances surrounding the fire, in which Jenkins said she found herself waking up on the couch to her home ablaze and her child screaming as the room he was in was engulfed in flames.

According to the affidavit, officers with the Craig Police Department responded to the 1900 block of Woodland Avenue at about 10:30 a.m. Christmas Eve 2018 to find smoke and flames billowing from the home and a woman, later identified as Jenkins, “yelling that her child was still inside.”

At least three Craig officers were first on the scene and tried to enter the home, without success.

“After a few feet, we could not continue any farther into the residence due to flames and smoke,” the affidavit said.

One of those first on the scene, Detective Norm Rimmer, relived that day in his testimony Monday.

“I was on call that week as the on-call detective, and I was actually in the office doing some paperwork that morning,” Rimmer said Monday of the December event.

After receiving and responding to the call, Rimmer said he tried breaking a rear bedroom window to gain access. But Rimmer and the other police officers first on scene were eventually forced to retreat.

“After a few feet, we could not continue any farther into the residence due to flames and smoke,” the affidavit said.

Then it came time to allow Craig Fire Rescue to take over the task.

“The fire department split into two teams — one was a rescue recovery team,” Rimmer said Monday. “The other team was fire suppression.”

It was all their efforts that eventually allowed investigators from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and other area agencies to descend upon the area to find out what exactly happened.

“There were two people inside the home when the fire started,” Rimmer said. “One person made it out. The other person did not.”

Much of Monday’s hearing was testimony from Rimmer as prosecutors tried to establish why evidence gathered by the Craig Police Department and others deserved to be heard by a jury.

Rimmer said, upon searching the truck Jenkins had been using, he found a powerful prescription medication used to wean drug addicted persons off heroin.

“We found a prescription bottle that was prescribed Suboxone to Vanessa Jenkins,” Rimmer said Monday. “… That medication showed that it was to be taken twice daily.”

Rimmer said Jenkins was also on a host of other mental health and mood-stabilizing medications she may have taken all at once.

“The way she described it, yes,” Rimmer said upon questioning from the prosecution. “It sounded like that was taken all at once. That was her daily medication.”

Jenkins also took the stand Monday. In her limited testimony, she admitted to having a prescription for Suboxone in the truck along with her child seats. Other than short words spoken between her attorneys and an audience member, Jenkins sat quietly Monday when not on the stand.

Jenkins’ defense team argued Jenkins should have been made aware of her Miranda rights before she was interviewed by police, and her privacy was violated when Judge Sandra Gardner approved a search warrant of the truck Jenkins was driving.

“I’m being asked to limit evidence in this case,” O’Hara said Monday.

Though Jenkins may have been a drug user in the past, O’Hara ruled prosecutors did not present evidence Jenkins was abusing drugs at the time of her son’s death.

“There was no evidence she was using heroin or methamphetamine on a regular basis,” O’Hara said.

O’Hara then ruled Jenkins did not have to be mirandized and her admission of guilt was admissible. Prosecutors could present evidence Jenkins left a lighter on the coffee table before falling asleep and will permit evidence regarding the multiple other medications Jenkins was taking.

When it came to whether the search warrant for Jenkins’ truck was admissible, O’Hara signaled he wanted to look closely at a prior case that might help him make a ruling.

“I’m going to take a look at that case before ruling,” O’Hara said.

Rimmer said Jenkins showed remorse and took responsibility for her son’s death.

“She felt like she was the worst mom ever,” Rimmer said Monday. “She felt like she totally blamed herself. … She accepted full responsibility for what happened.”


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