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Mother charged in 2-year-old's death in Bayfield County rollover

Four people, including three children, were ejected from a vehicle in July after the Chevrolet Blazer they were riding in left Wisconsin Highway 13 and rolled just north of Washburn, the Bayfield County Sheriff's Office reported. Mariah Gordon, 2, was killed. (Photo by Bayfield County Sheriff's Department)

A Bayfield woman is accused of the reckless homicide of her 2-year-old daughter and of causing great bodily harm to her 4-year-old daughter, 6-year-old son and 15-year-old sister in a one-car rollover in which she was the driver and the only person wearing a seat belt or safety restraint.

Chelsea Nicole Cadotte, 23, was charged Tuesday with second-degree reckless homicide and three counts of first-degree reckless injury.

Mariah Gordon, 2, died as a result of injuries received in the July 23 accident on Wisconsin Highway 13, north of Washburn. Myley Gordon, 4, is in a coma with a traumatic brain injury, Carter Gordon, 6, suffered a broken hip and broken leg, and Erica Gonzales, 15, the defendant's sister, sustained lacerated internal organs, two broken wrists and a broken leg.

Cadotte, who has at least two prior citations for failing to restrain children in a vehicle, was the only person in the SUV who wasn't ejected from the vehicle. She expressed no visible emotion during a brief court appearance before Bayfield County Circuit Court Judge John Anderson. She waived reading of the complaint against her.

The Wisconsin State Patrol obtained a search warrant to inspect Cadotte's vehicle on Aug. 24. An expert found no mechanical problems that would have been a contributing factor to the crash.

"The investigation further revealed that at or about the time of the crash, Ms. Cadotte had been attempting to have some type of contact with the 2-year-old girl and had turned around to look at her," Bayfield County District Attorney Craig Haukaas said during a news conference outside the courtroom after the hearing. "The vehicle she was operating traveled across the oncoming lane of traffic, into the northbound gravel shoulder of the roadway. Ms. Cadotte overcorrected her steering, causing the vehicle to roll several times resulting in the aforementioned injuries and death."

Cadotte was booked into the Bayfield County Jail and released on a $25,000 signature bond. Anderson ordered her to not leave Wisconsin, except to visit a child in a Duluth hospital. The defendant also was ordered to not operate a motor vehicle with minor children as passengers and to maintain sobriety. She will be subject to random testing for sobriety by local law enforcement.

Haukaas said Cadotte had taken at least one training session on the use of child safety restraints and had been warned many times by community members and law enforcement that her children needed to be securely seat-belted while being transported. He said the defendant has received multiple citations for safety restraint violations over the past several years.

"We believe this established the probable cause to believe that Ms. Cadotte acted recklessly by failing to properly secure her passengers and showed utter disregard for human life causing the death of one human being and great bodily harm to three others," Haukaas said.

"We have the death of a child here that could have been prevented had safety restraints been used. ... Please buckle your children."

The defendant is accused of speeding, but not driving under the influence.

"There was no alcohol that was shown in the toxicology report," Haukaas said. "Evidence of drug usage is still under investigation. She did receive medication when she arrived at the hospital. That somewhat complicates the process of being able to determine the existence of drugs in advance."

After the hearing, Assistant State Public Defender Aaron Marcoux of Ashland said he and Cadotte were declining comment on the charges. When a reporter asked the current condition of 4-year-old Myley Gordon, Marcoux went to see his client and returned with the answer: "She's still in a coma, but breathing on her own and showing signs of reflexivity," Marcoux said.

Cadotte's next court appearance is scheduled for Nov. 13.