COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ten months after a crash killed a woman who was struck nearly head-on by a stolen car driven by an unlicensed teen in foster care, the Columbus Division of Police has forwarded its work to the juvenile prosecutor’s office.
The foster parent who reported the stolen Mercedes last October told 10 Investigates this week that he is no longer currently fostering any children but declined to comment on what spurred that decision. Franklin County Children Services has only said that “the agency has no involvement with this provider currently.”
FCCS has not answered 10 Investigates’ follow-up questions about what prompted this decision or what other concrete changes have been implemented in wake of our reporting on this and other issues inside the foster care system.
The crash raises questions about potential gaps in foster care placements and how they can have a direct impact on public safety.
10 Investigates learned the unlicensed teenager behind the wheel had been caught driving illegally twice before the fatal crash. We’ve also reported how there were multiple police calls in recent years to his foster parent’s home for reports of missing persons, stolen cars and domestic violence.
Taken together, they raise further questions about what scrutiny is placed by FCCS when it makes foster care placements and the unique challenges that come for its caseworkers, foster parents and the children who can end up caught in the cycle of the foster care system.
10 Investigates is not naming the teen or the foster parent because no charges have been filed in the fatal crash
But here’s what we’ve learned:
- During the first instance in 2021, the then-14-year-old boy was cited by Worthington Police after driving illegally through the soccer fields of a school. Juvenile court records show that the case was dismissed by late June.
- In late September, the teen again faced charges of allegedly stealing a Dodge minivan from a foster group home in the Dayton area. The vehicle was later recovered here in Columbus. But because there was a delay in deciding where the teen might face charges – either in Montgomery or Franklin county – he was not charged until October 22. That left a gap where instead of being placed in juvenile detention he was assigned to another foster home.
- It was after a brief stay there that a blue Mercedes was reported stolen on October 3, 2021. Within minutes of being reported stolen it was involved in a fatal crash near Noe Bixby and Refugee Roads that killed 58-year-old Paula Kennedy, a grandmother and long-time employee of Groveport-Madison Schools.
When reached by phone this week, the teen’s mother said she could not comment.
While the Columbus Division of Police forwarded its investigation to the office of Christopher Clark, the chief juvenile prosecutor for Franklin County, Clark told 10 Investigates via email no criminal complaint has been filed.
A competency evaluation for the case would be determined only after a complaint is filed, Clark said via email. Evaluations had been ordered on the teen’s previous case involving the stolen mini-van.
Paula Kennedy’s daughters said they would like to see significant changes implemented by FCCS to ensure something like what happened to their mother doesn’t happen again.
Their ideas include increased scrutiny over how foster parents and foster children are assigned to each other and ensuring that the child’s needs are met while at the same time ensuring public safety.
In follow-up emails between FCCS and 10 Investigates, the agency did say that:
"Although no policies of child placement were found to require change, we have increased the number of Prevention Based contracts for high-risk youth…"
Additional follow-up questions led the agency to say it is working with other 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 mom loved helping everyone. So I think her losing her life maybe would actually have a purpose. Because we haven't found out like why it would ever happen to her or us,” daughter Elizabeth Messmer said.
As a former Columbus City Schools teacher, Messmer said she is sensitive to the needs of children in the foster care community because she was exposed to it.
“It just seems very unfair. And I think it'll always feel unfair. But to see a change occur and for that to turn into something better,” daughter Kathryn Helwig said.
“Not okay but hurt maybe a little less,” Messmer chimed in.
Kathyrn Helwig continued: “I feel like … I try to be very optimistic and think that everyone has the best intentions. And I hope that they still they do, so yes I would hope that seeing what has happened with more than just this kid with other kids, that they would make significant changes.”
If you have something you’d like us to know, please feel free to email our team at email@example.com.
Caught in the Cycle series
- Part 1: 20 children have died in custody of Franklin County Children Services since 2015
- Part 2: Teen in foster care tied to fatal crash had been caught driving illegally 2 other times
- Part 3: Records document violence, injuries and runaways at behavioral treatment center for foster children
- Part 4: 128 children across Ohio have died in custody of children services agencies since 2015