The mother who, with her injured 3-month-old in her arms, stole a car and led local law enforcement on a high-speed, bi-state pursuit back in August has been sentenced to charges relating to the incident.
Baylee Alexandra Christopher, 25, Hood River, pled guilty to Burglary in the First Degree, Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle and Assault in the Third Degree in Hood River County Circuit Court on Jan. 30.
Christopher also received concurrent sentences on charges related to a DUII she received in November while released from the Northern Oregon Regional Corrections Facility (NORCOR)on a Conditional Release Agreement.
Between all charges, she received a total 25 months’ jail time, with credit for time served and consideration for alternate-incarceration programs, 36 months’ probation, and a five-year suspension of her driver’s license. As of press time, she owed approximately $2,000 in fines and court fees; a restitution amount for the owners of the stolen vehicle has yet to be determined.
“I’m sorry to the family that I affected besides my own. I didn’t mean for these things to happen,” Christopher said. “I’m sorry for the damage that I did to my baby. I will say that I never let her out of my arms…” She added that maybe refusing to release her daughter for medical treatment was a mistake, “and I have to live with that.”
The incident began the morning of Aug. 2: Christopher and her daughter were passengers in a vehicle driven by Christopher’s boyfriend, Jesse Holmes, when the vehicle hit a tree on Binns Hill Road, west of Hood River, at about 8:30 a.m.
“It was a catastrophic crash,” said Assistant District Attorney Carrie Rasmussen, who was prosecuting Christopher’s case on behalf of the State of Oregon. According to Rasmussen, officers described a woman, Christopher, fleeing the scene “with a barely clothed, lifeless child” and did not find an appropriate car seat inside the vehicle.
“(The baby) likely just got tossed around the car like a rag doll when the accident happened,” Rasmussen said, adding that neither Holmes nor Christopher were wearing seatbelts.
Holmes was injured in the crash and arrested at the scene; he is currently being lodged at NORCOR for a parole violation.
With her baby in her arms, Christopher broke into a nearby residence and told the occupant that she needed a car to take her daughter to the hospital. The occupant, Michelle Kawachi, offered to call for help, but Christopher stole the keys to the 2018 Subaru Outback in the driveway, and, after a brief struggle over the keys, took the car.
During a Victim’s Impact Statement read by Kawachi’s sister on her behalf during the Jan. 30 hearing, Kawachi described feelings of paranoia after the incident. “The fact that I feel unsafe in my own home is worrisome,” she wrote.
The Hood River County Sheriff’s Office, which responded to the initial crash, loosely tailed Christopher under the assumption that she was taking her baby to the hospital. Christopher drove at a normal speed until she noticed that she was being loosely tailed by a police vehicle, said Rasmussen, and then accelerated to speeds in excess of 100 miles-per-hour. The pursuit was picked up and dropped by multiple agencies, including the Hood River Police and the Klickitat County Sheriff’s Department, due to the high-speed nature of the pursuit and concern for both the baby’s safety and the safety of other drivers.
Through the StarLink system in the vehicle, law officials were able to track the vehicle to Columbia High School, where Christopher had parked and taken the baby to a nearby residence “with known criminal conduct,” Rasmussen said. The stolen vehicle was found to be drivable, but significantly damaged.
Christopher and her child were found around 12:30 p.m. — four hours after the initial crash. Christopher refused medical attention for both herself and her child; multiple officers were required to restrain her so that her baby could receive treatment.
Both mother and baby were transported to Skyline Hospital, where Christopher was treated for minor injuries and released for transport to Klickitat County Jail.
The baby, meanwhile, was transported to Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland to receive treatment for serious injuries, including a compound skull fracture, a head laceration, significant blood loss, a traumatic brain injury, rib fractures and respiratory failure. She was also discovered to have methamphetamine in her system, and it was later learned that she suffered significant hearing loss.
“(She) suffered such a significant trauma that she will suffer lifelong consequences,” said Jennifer Hinman, an attorney representing Christopher’s daughter. “At a time when she (Christopher) should have protected her child, she showed no regard. None.”
“She is likely … to require ongoing medical care indefinitely,” said Elizabeth Crowe of the Department of Human Services, during a Victim’s Impact Statement she gave on the child’s behalf during the Jan. 30 hearing. Christopher’s daughter, now 9-months-old, is currently living with a foster-family.
“This was one of the most emotional and heartbreaking cases we’ve seen,” Crowe said.
She requires daily physical therapy and her development is significantly delayed — and could stop at any point — but doctors are “cautiously optimistic,” Crowe said. “(She) wanted to live and she fought through all of her injuries at just 3-months-old,” Crowe said. “(She) is strong, she is brave, and she is a fighter.”
When delivering Christopher’s sentence, Judge John Olson asked Christopher, who was appearing via video from NORCOR, if she could see the dozen or so people gathered in the courtroom.
“I can see they’re all very upset by what you’ve done, and rightly so. I’m upset,” he said. He added that, as a judge, he has years of experience emotionally distancing himself from the details of the cases he’s presented with. “I’m having a hard time distancing myself from this because the last thing that a parent wants to do is see their child hurt,” he said. “Some of it seems to be fear of getting in trouble and some of it seems to be a bizarre desire to hold your child.
“I’m not judging you for your character, but the events (of this case) are horrific, and I’m not sure you fully get that.”
“I do, sir,” Christopher replied.
“I hope you do,” said Olson, “because that’s your only hope.”
Christopher’s attorney, James Mason, spoke to Christopher’s own trauma before and after the incident. “I don’t think that you see a case like this without the defendant having a lot of trauma in her background and that’s the case with Ms. Christopher,” he said. “Obviously, we’re not offering that as a defense. It’s not an excuse, it’s a statement of fact.”
“This has been the most emotional, traumatic experience of my life,” Christopher said. She added that she is hoping to access treatment within NORCOR “to be a better mom to my daughter.”