An Ellensburg resident is facing second-degree manslaughter charges stemming from the death of her 2-year-old daughter.
Rachel Nicole McCombs pleaded not guilty during her arraignment on the charge in Kittitas County Superior Court on Sept. 12. Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Craig Juris is representing the county in the case, with attorney Paul McBride representing the defendant as limited counsel. The trial is tentatively set for Nov. 22.
According to a motion and affidavit of summons on the case, Detective Potter of the Ellensburg Police Department received a call notifying him of a potential child assault case, the victim was brought into Kittitas Valley Healthcare by McCombs, the mother of the child.
“Upon arriving at the hospital, Detective Potter contacted the defendant and asked her what happened,” the affidavit stated. “The defendant stated that (the victim) had gotten sick on the night of April 17, 2022, and began vomiting and having diarrhea. (Victim)’s appetite began to lessen, and she was getting more lethargic. During that time, (the victim) began breathing oddly. At that time the defendant brought (victim) to the hospital.”
The affidavit said Detective Potter spoke to other members of law enforcement who showed him photographs of the victim, who was very gaunt with minimal apparent body mass, as well as signs of bruising on the victim’s forehead. There was also a small cut on the bridge of the victim’s nose, bruising under the jaw line, and what appeared to be a burn on her left hand.
The affidavit stated the victim’s extremities from the waist down were severely discolored, which was later determined to be from a combination of bruising and sepsis. Both of the victim’s legs were various shades of purple, and the victim’s buttocks were the same color, but with shades of red similar to diaper rash, only more severe.
“(The victim’s) right buttocks had an open sore that was dark red in color,” the affidavit stated. “Finally, there was observable swelling on the ring and middle fingers of (the victim’s) left hand with discoloration near the first knuckle of the ring finger.”
According to the affidavit, Detective Potter learned from a doctor at KVH that the victim had a second-degree burn on her hand from an unknown source. The victim weighed 17 pounds, which was later found to be less than the victim weighed at 9 months. Furthermore, the victim had a white blood cell count of 0.8, a normal count being between 10.0 and 12.0.
After undergoing X-rays, the affidavit said the victim appeared to be suffering from pneumonia in her lungs, and her heart rate was in the 60s when a normal level would be in the 140s. At this point, the affidavit said KVH began arranging transport of the victim to Children’s Hospital in Seattle. Despite making arrangements, the affidavit said KVH medical staff did not believe the victim would survive, and the victim died while being transported from KVH to the aircraft that would have taken her to Children’s Hospital.
In further conversations between Detective Potter and McCombs, the affidavit talked again about the victim being sick and said they would either sleep together in the same bed or that the child would sleep in a pack and play. The affidavit said McCombs told Potter that she left the house on April 20, leaving the victim in the care of an older sibling. When McCombs returned, the affidavit said she found the victim sleeping in a high chair and did not disturb her, as she wanted the victim to sleep after being sick.
At 5 a.m. the next morning, the affidavit said McCombs woke up to the sound of the victim vomiting. While tending to the child, McCombs said she noticed the child was breathing oddly and gasping for air. It was then she took the child to KVH.
When Potter asked about the various injuries on the child, the affidavit said McCombs reported they came from a variety of incidents. The bruising was purportedly from a fall in a bathtub, while the injury to the child’s ear purportedly came from a power cord from a hair straightener that flipped off a counter and struck the child.
“When asked about what appeared to be extreme diaper rash and sores, the defendant claimed that it had only appeared the day before as a result of the diarrhea,” the affidavit stated. “The defendant stated that (the victim) had that type of rash before, and it cleared up on her own. The defendant claimed that she never let (the victim) sit in a dirty diaper and always changed it immediately. The defendant said she did not know anything about the injuries to her daughter’s fingers. When asked why she had not taken (the victim) to a doctor earlier, the defendant stated that (the victim) always had health issues and she assumed it was only a cold.”
In an interview with the younger sibling left in charge of the victim while McCombs was out of the house, the affidavit said the younger sibling said it was common for them to be left to care for the younger children when McCombs left the house. On the night in question, the sibling said McCombs left the house around dusk to get milk and give money to someone who had previously lent her money for groceries, returning a short time later. The affidavit said McCombs left again around 9 p.m. to pick up two of her other children who had been left at their grandparent’s home.
“While the defendant was gone, (victim) was in the highchair, (sibling) attempted to feed (victim) but she would not eat or drink,” the affidavit said. “(Victim’s) head was tilted back and to the left, her eyes were open, and she sat motionless in the highchair. (Sibling) said that it looked like (the victim) was about to die. (Sibling) called to (victim) and touched them to bring them back to life. The defendant returned home shortly thereafter.”
The affidavit said the sibling told the investigator McCombs went to bed with the victim around 11 p.m. and noticed the two were sleeping in the same bed around midnight. The sibling told the investigator that McCombs was not sleeping on the couch and the victim was not sleeping in the highchair and confirmed that the mark on the victim’s head was from a fall in the bathtub. The sibling did not recall the victim having a cough, crying, or screaming.
The affidavit stated that an April 23 autopsy of the victim showed they were extremely dehydrated and had no body mass due to “protein-calorie malnutrition”, an indication that the child was not getting enough food. The affidavit said the medical examiner did not believe the stated cause of the injuries to the victim’s ear was a reasonable cause.
“Dr. Lubin stated that (the victim) had severe pneumonia in her left lung and mild pneumonia in her right lung,” the affidavit said. “This pneumonia being left untreated may have led to sepsis developing in (the victim). (The victim’s) dehydration and malnourishment were serious factors limiting or preventing her ability to fight off the illness and infection.”
The affidavit said Detective Potter received the final report from Dr. Lubin on July 22, which stated that the cause of death was bacterial pneumonia, with protein-calorie malnutrition being a major contributing factor. The report said the etiology of the blunt force injuries was unexplained.
“Protein calorie malnutrition with no medical reason may be evidence of caregiver neglect; accordingly, the manner of death is best certified as undermined,” the affidavit said of the final report. “Detective Potter recontacted Dr. Frick from KVH. Doctor Frick stated that he believed that (the victim) would have survived had she been medically treated at least a day earlier.”