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Teen in foster care faces vehicle homicide charge for fatal crash that killed Groveport Madison employee

The fatal crash near Refugee and Noe Bixby Road last October was preceded by a series of events that began with a 911 call from a foster parent.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Juvenile court records show a now 16-year-old boy, who was behind the wheel of stolen Mercedes last fall, faces charges including aggravated vehicular homicide for his alleged involvement in a crash that killed a 58-year old Groveport woman.

The fatal crash near Refugee and Noe Bixby Road last October was preceded by a series of events that began with a 911 call from a foster parent saying that his Mercedes had just been stolen.

When the dispatcher asked him if the teen had done this before, the man said: “Yes, with another a foster family.”

10 Investigates learned the fatal crash that killed Paula Kennedy, a long-time Groveport Madison school employee, involved a teen who had been caught driving illegally twice before.

The first instance happened in January 2021 when the then-14 year old unlicensed driver was accused of driving through the soccer fields of a Worthington school. That charge in juvenile court was later dropped in late June.

But by September, the teen was then accused of stealing a minivan from a foster home in Dayton. But because of a delay in charging him in Franklin County juvenile court, the teen was placed in another a foster home – a home that police records show had numerous runs in recent years for complaints about missing persons, stolen cars and domestic violence.

Franklin County Children Services – who placed the teen at that home – told 10 Investigates the foster parent is no longer fostering children currently.

Both the agency and the foster parent declined to provide further details.

But the fatal crash – and the events that preceded it - raise serious questions about the scrutiny that goes into foster care placements and illustrates how gaps in the foster care system can have a direct impact on public safety.

Paula Kennedy’s daughters said their mother’s death was preventable.

“It’s hard, it doesn’t change that we lost our mom. I kind of feel like we – if the state would’ve intervened sooner in charging him when he stole the first or the second car… he would’ve been receiving a consequence on receiving a stolen car and not killing someone,” said Kennedy’s daughter, Elizabeth Messmer.

Another daughter, Tonda Shaw, told 10 Investigates“This is the third time he has done it and he killed somebody. Somebody who was very, very much loved - not only in my life but in so many people’s lives and now she is gone because of FCCS not doing their job.”

Daughter Kathryn Helwig told 10 Investigates via email: “I am relieved that the juvenile court is filing a complaint. This is an opportunity for the driver to be held accountable for his actions. Although it does not change the devastation he caused my family, it is a step in the right direction.”

10 Investigates reached out to Franklin County Children Services for reaction to the news that the unlicensed teen would now face charges in juvenile court. As of news time, we had not heard back.

But in previous responses to 10 Investigates’ questions FCCS had said that it had not made any policy changes directly to foster care placements. A spokesperson did say that the agency has is working with area partners to “…rethink, develop, and secure placements/services responsive to the diverse and intensive needs of our community’s youth…” 

10 Investigates’ additional questions about what concrete changes or discussions have occurred have not been answered.

Our previous reporting found that 20 children have died while in the care or custody of FCCS since 2015 – half of them died by gun violence.

The agency said it does not track how many children in its care are involved in incidents that claim the life of another.

Our reporting will be updated if we receive a response to our latest questions.

We could not reach the teen’s mother Wednesday for comment.

The juvenile court hearing on this case is scheduled for Friday morning at 11 a.m.

In addition to the aggravated vehicular homicide charges, the teen also faces charges of driving without a license and failing to comply with the order or signal of a police officer.

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