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Infant death case reopened

DA wants answers to questions about baby's death from suffocation

Posted: Friday, January 11, 2002

Police are reinvestigating the October suffocation death of Annabelle Nashoanak's 6-month-old infant, Jezzabelle Rose, at the district attorney's request. Nashoanak was accused of causing a drunken-driving accident that seriously injured two of her other children in December.

Nashoanak, 25, is charged with two counts of felony assault with a dangerous instrument, a lesser felony assault, two counts of misdemeanor reckless endangerment and misdemeanor drunken driving. Charges stem from a Dec. 22 crash in which she allegedly drove drunk with her four children and husband in the vehicle.

District Attorney Rick Svobodny said he questioned "one aspect of the baby's death," but declined to comment further. He said the request had nothing to do with the pending drunken-driving case.

"It's difficult to determine homicide or reckless or negligent behavior in an infant," Svobodny said. "So the (child fatality review) team meets in Anchorage to review all unattended infant deaths during the year. ... They were satisfied with the findings in this case. I still had questions."

Nashoanak's attorney, Louis Menendez, declined to comment on the case but said he was representing her in a state Division of Family and Youth Services case stemming from the child's death.

Police Capt. Tom Porter said that on the morning of Oct. 31 police went to the Nashoanak home because Annabelle Nashoanak "believed the baby was in some kind of distress." Police and paramedics found Jezzabelle on a bed where she and her four siblings had been sleeping. Nashoanak told police she went in to check on the baby around 7 a.m. and noticed "something wasn't right with her," Porter said.

Connie Tonsgard, Nashoanak's mother, said Nashoanak disapproved of the baby sleeping in the same bed with the other children. Tonsgard said the baby often slept with Nashoanak because she didn't have a crib.

"She wanted to get a crib for the baby," Tonsgard said. "She's always had a hard time financially because she has so many children."

Tonsgard said the death certificate listed the cause of death as positional suffocation. According to the state medical examiner's office, positional suffocation occurs when a person is positioned in a place where he or she can't breath, such as between pillows.

Police consulted the Division of Family and Youth Services and a case was opened.

Ritchie Sonner, DFYS regional director, declined to comment about why the rest of the children were allowed to stay in the home and would not confirm or deny a case against the family.

Tonsgard said DFYS worked with the Nashoanak family on "several issues," but didn't specify.

Police said they also are looking at possible charges against Annabelle Nashoanak's husband, Travis, who was in the vehicle during the Dec. 22 accident. Porter said he is unsure what the charges would be, but expects they would be along the line of negligence.

Tonsgard said she is caring for Nashoanak's children, and has not posted bail for her daughter. She said she wanted to give her a chance to get counseling to deal with her grief in losing Jezzabelle.

"She's never dealt with it. It was devastating to her," Tonsgard said. "She needed counseling for that but she has so many children she could never find the time. Now she'll have a chance to sit in one place and reflect on the last 10 years and get the counseling she needs."

Nashoanak has been at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center since Dec. 22.

Melanie Plenda can be reached at mplenda@juneauempire.com.



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