Death of mentally ill mother leads to lawsuit against social service agency

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The family of a mentally ill mother says she would be alive today if not for the negligence of a social service agency. The family of Christina Kearney is now taking that agency to court.

It's been more than two years since the death of the 43-year-old Kearney, but the memory still stings for her sister. "I try not to think of what happened to her," said Christina's sister Angela Easterlin. "I don't like to think about that but it's sad because I don't know what happened to her."

Christina was last seen on Dec 31, 2011. One month later her body was discovered in a ravine in Tacoma. She'd been dead for some time. Teenaged boys found her body partly in the water of the creek that runs behind some homes on Tacoma's east side.

The medical examiner ruled her death was from natural causes. The family figures she froze to death.

" I don't know how long she suffered," said Easterlin, "I don't know if the coldness, of being left in the cold weather, if she felt her skin freezing, I don't know."

The family believes it could have been prevented. Christina was the mother of three children, but suffered severe mental illness and was deemed incapable of living on her own. She'd been in the care of Behavioral Health Resources of Olympia for 24 years and in and out of a state mental hospital.

Court documents show the last time she was let out of the hospital she asked to be taken to her mother's house which BHR did even though Dawna Easterlin reportedly had a restraining order against her daughter. "They took her to her mother's house and they knew that she couldn't stay at her mother's house and they literally just dropped her off there, put her bags on the sidewalk and left," said family attorney Thaddeus Martin.

BHR says it can't comment on the suit or the allegations. They say the organization can't even confirm Christina was a client of theirs because of strict confidentiality laws.

"I just pray that she didn't suffer," said Angela. "She already had suffered her whole life with mental illness."

The wrongful death lawsuit is for unspecified damages. It was originally filed in Pierce County where her body was found, but has since been shifted to Thurston County which is the home of Behavioral Health Services.