Mother pleads not guilty in 18-month-old daughter's death

TULALIP, Wash. - A mother charged in connection with the death of her 18-month-old daughter made her first court appearance Thursday morning in Tulalip Tribal Court.

Christina Carlson, 36, was arrested Monday after her 18-month-old daughter, Chantel Craig, was found unconscious and unresponsive inside a car with her 2-year-old sister on the Tulalip Indian Reservation. Chantel later was pronounced dead at Providence Medical Center in Everett.

During Thursday's court hearing, Carlson pleaded not guilty to two counts of criminal endangerment and two counts of failure to care for a dependent.

She entered the courtroom shrouded in a red blanket, which she kept over her head throughout the hearing so that most people there could not see her face. Carlson's family and friends filled the small courtroom to show their support her her.

But once federal prosecutors take a look at this case that happened on tribal land, those charges could become even heftier.

"The U.S. Attorney's Office will review the case, and they'll amend the charges as the facts dictate," said Tulalip Police Chief Rance Sutten.

The judge ruled that there is probable cause to move ahead with a jury trial, and Carlson was ordered held on $75,000 bail. If she makes bail, she was ordered to have no contact with any children, including her own surviving children.

The case came to light Monday evening when someone called 911 to report an unresponsive infant found inside a car parked down a gravel road, in the 1000 block of Marine Drive.

Chantel's 2-year-old sister, who also was in the car, was taken to Children's Hospital in Seattle for treatment of dehydration but is expected to recover.

Tulalip Tribe Chairman Mel Sheldon described the scene where the girls were found found as terribly tragic.

The girls' family were part of the Tulalip Tribe, Sheldon said. He said the girls' parents had separated and their father went to Children's Hospital to be with the surviving daughter.

Meanwhile, police are still investigating the little girl's death, but Sheldon said the tribe will come together to support the children.

The Department of Social and Health Services said the agency investigated the girl's mother within the past year for allegations of abuse involving 18-month-old Chantel.

A tip led the agency to launch the investigation, which was recently closed because DSHS could not complete it for an undisclosed reason. Because the child died after DSHS closed its investigation, the agency's fatality review board will review the case file.

Friend Cyrus Williams said he tried to help the girls' mother through a tough time. He said the family was homeless and had stayed on his land for several weeks.

But the family moved away several weeks ago, said Williams. "There's a place down there where some homeless stay," he said.