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No felony charges in two kids' pond drownings; prosecutor says mom wasn't speeding, impaired or distracted

By Dave Hanners / St. Paul Pioneer press

MINNEAPOLIS – The woman whose car plummeted into a freeway retention pond last November, drowning one of her children and another child, wasn’t speeding, wasn’t impaired and wasn’t on a cellphone, Hennepin County’s top prosecutor said Wednesday.

In saying his office could not find a felony charge to bring against the driver, Marion Guerrido, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman called the crash “a horrible, horrible tragedy.”

“There simply is insufficient evidence to warrant any criminal charge,” Freeman said in an interview.

Guerrido, 23, of Brooklyn Center, might face legal scrutiny for possible misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor charges by the St. Louis Park City Attorney’s Office, said a spokesman for the Minnesota State Patrol, which investigated the crash.

The woman was driving with an instruction permit, which required her to have a licensed driver in the passenger seat. She was the only adult in the car with five children.

The City Attorney’s Office did not return a call for comment.

On Nov. 21, Guerrido was driving her three kids and two other children to her mother’s house. As she made the turn from westbound Minnesota 7 in St. Louis Park onto Minnesota 100, her car left the road, slid down an embankment and crashed into a retention basin with water about 9 feet deep.

Guerrido made it out of the 1998 Pontiac Grand Am, but it took rescuers several minutes to tow the car to shallower water to pull out the children.

The woman’s son, Alarious Coleman-Guerrido, 7, drowned, as did Zenavia Rennie, 5, a daughter of Guerrido’s boyfriend. The other three children were pulled to safety but required lengthy hospital stays.

The retention basins are a standard roadside feature. They help with flood control and collect contaminants that wash off the roadway, preventing them from getting into the sewer system.

The State Patrol investigated the crash. Accident reconstructionists initially suspected the woman overcorrected while making the turn, and they got a search warrant to retrieve the car’s sensing and diagnostic module, or SDM. The device is akin to an airliner’s “black box” flight data recorder.

Investigators studied the data, performed tests and interviewed Guerrido. Freeman said nothing indicated she was speeding or was impaired by drugs or alcohol. Similarly, she was not on a cellphone.

Freeman said that in cases involving deaths from motor vehicle crashes, prosecutors generally consider a felony charge of criminal vehicular homicide. But he said such cases require the state to prove “gross negligence,” and nothing suggested Guerrido’s driving met that standard.

“There simply is inadequate evidence to seriously contemplate such a charge,” the prosecutor said.

He said that after declining prosecution, his office forwarded it to the St. Louis Park Police Department and the City Attorney’s Office – and that they could determine if prosecution on lesser charges is warranted.

Lt. Eric Roeske, a spokesman for the State Patrol, said the agency could not yet release its formal report because the case is still under review.

Guerrido’s other two children in the car, Aliyana Rennie, 1, and Amani Coleman-Guerrido, 5, survived, as did Zarihana Rennie, 6, another daughter of Guerrido’s boyfriend, Julius Rennie.

The children were hospitalized; the most recent update from Marion Guerrido on the families’ CaringBridge page was Jan. 28, in which she wrote of the children’s recovery, “we are all definitely in a different place.”

“Amani is amazing, a absolute testament to how resilient they say children can be,” she wrote. “He is doing really good, adjusting to this new normal within our family without his siblings. He has shown us all that life doesn’t stop though and for that we are grateful. He has been out of the hospital for about a month now.”

She wrote, “Aliyana is also doing really good, she is doing some rehab to build her strength back up, and for the most part is just being a typical toddler. She is awesome. I can’t think of another way to describe them, they are both just doing awesome!”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.