Coroner: Another Quad City baby died from methadone exposure, no charges

Two babies in the Quad Cities area have died from exposure to methadone in the past 16 months, but criminal charges will only be filed in one of the cases.

Nine-month-old Carolina Steiner, of Moline, died in her crib in September 2012.  The official cause of death was ruled “acute aspiration due to methadone toxicity.”

“The levels were high enough to indicate the child was very groggy, under the influence of methadone and didn’t know it and choked on her vomit,” said Rock Island County Coroner Brian Gustafson.

“She was found unresponsive by her parents, they called 911,” Gustafson said.  Carolina was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

Gustafson says the baby was born addicted to methadone, a heroin substitute legally  prescribed to her mother.  He says the baby girl was weaned off of the drug in the hospital during her first 30 days of life and then sent home.  He says there was no reason for methadone to be in her system eight months later.

“It’s a case I’ll never forget. It’s not normal for nine-month-old babies to die from methadone toxicity,” Gustafson said, adding he has no idea how the baby ingested the drug.

Gustafson says Moline Police launched an extensive investigation with limited cooperation from the baby’s parents who, he says, “lawyered up.”

The parents briefly spoke to WQAD and said their daughter had a pre-existing condition and that she was prescribed methadone by a doctor.

Gustafson said that’s not true.

But after meeting several times with prosecutors, the decision was made not to file any criminal charges in the case.

State’s Attorney John McGehee didn’t take office until months after Carolina’s death, but he says it was his understanding there was no evidence of intent to harm the child.

“We didn’t know how the drug got into the child’s body,” he said. “If you look at the endangerment of a child statute, you have to prove willful conduct.  Willful conduct is a pretty high standard that has to be met.  It’s not negligence.  It’s willful,” he said.

McGehee said he was not yet familiar with the case across the river in Scott County, where a couple was charged with felony child endangerment/death after their 13-month-old daughter died of complications from ingesting methadone.

The case surrounding Carolina Steiner is now closed.  She would have turned two years old on Saturday, January 18th.

“We could never prove criminal intent to harm this child,” Gustafson said.  “I understand why charges were not filed.  It still doesn’t make the knot in my stomach go away, but I understand.”

Related:  Clinton baby’s death blamed on parents

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