DAYTON, Ore. - An Oregon woman whose 27-year-old daughter fatally tumbled from her car in August has been sentenced to five days in jail for driving drunk as they returned from a wedding.
Jennifer Weathers, 50, of King City, was initially charged with driving under the influence of intoxicants and reckless endangerment because her 3-year-old granddaughter, Gia, was also in the car during the fateful Aug. 18 drive home during which Meighan Cordie, of Salem, was killed. Weathers pleaded guilty Tuesday to the DUII charge and was sentenced to time in the Yamhill County Jail.
The reckless endangerment charge was dropped as part of Weathers’ plea deal.
PHOTOS: Meighan Cordie's mother enters guilty plea https://t.co/44FmXMKxAj— Statesman Journal (@Salem_Statesman) February 5, 2019
Jail records show she is set to be released Sunday after serving her sentence.
Weathers’ defense attorney, Walter Todd, told The Oregonian his client completed an outpatient treatment program for alcohol abuse while awaiting the end of her court case.
“Jennifer accepted full responsibility for driving while intoxicated,” Todd told the newspaper. “That had nothing to do with Meighan’s tragic death.”
Investigators and prosecutors were left puzzled by the death of Cordie, who Weathers reported missing Aug. 19. According to the Yamhill County Sheriff’s Office, Weathers told authorities Cordie walked away from the car without her shoes or her cellphone following an argument.
Sheriff’s Office investigators launched a search for Cordie that included a ground search by hundreds of people, along with air searches using a helicopter and fixed wing aircraft, one of which was equipped with infrared cameras. Authorities said K-9s and marine patrol were also part of the search for the young mother.
Cordie’s body was found by joggers four days later at the bottom of an embankment near Dayton in rural Yamhill County. Her body was found about nine miles from where her mother said she walked away from the car.
Yamhill County District Attorney Brad Berry said during a September news conference that it was unclear whether Cordie jumped or fell from the vehicle while it was moving. Her death was ruled accidental by the medical examiner.
“Do we know everything that happened? We don’t,” Berry said. “Jennifer, (after) about the 25th of August, has not provided any further statements. But the evidence found has been consistent with the conclusions which the investigators and I have drawn in what happened.”
He pointed to a map of the location where Cordie’s body was found.
“She left the vehicle here, she was killed instantly, rolled to the bottom of the embankment about 20 feet below the road,” Berry said. “And that’s where her body lie until such time as the joggers found it.
“Certainly, a horribly tragic case complicated by incomplete or misinformation to the investigators early on.”
The autopsy found several significant injuries consistent with Cordie’s body striking stationary objects, such as the highway guardrail or its support posts. The injuries were not consistent with being struck by a vehicle, Berry said.
Hair found on at least one of the support posts shows that Cordie’s head struck it as she rolled from the vehicle. Berry said investigators believe she then rolled under the guardrail and down the steep embankment.
Cordie suffered several broken bones, including two broken or severed vertebrae, and an aortic separation, which would have caused an immediate loss of blood pressure and internal bleeding, Berry said. The aortic separation was the cause of her death.
Berry said the investigation found several inconsistencies with the information Weathers had given about the night her daughter vanished and the incidents leading up to her death.
Watch the entire news conference with Yamhill County District Attorney Brad Berry below.
The prosecutor said Weathers told investigators she and Cordie argued the day before the wedding about who would drive to the wedding. Weathers did not want to drive because she was concerned that they might have to leave earlier than she wished because Gia, her granddaughter and Cordie’s daughter, might get tired and need to go home.
Cordie did not want to drive because she wanted to be able to drink if she wished, Berry said.
Ultimately, Weathers drove to the wedding, which took place at Heiser Farms in Dayton. Both she and Cordie drank at the reception.
Gia began to get fussy around 10:15 p.m., at which time Cordie found Weathers and told her they had to leave, Berry said.
“Jennifer relayed that they did,” Berry said. “As they were walking to the car, she said she made a comment to Meighan, something along the lines of, ‘I told you this would happen. This is the exact reason I didn’t want to drive,’ and was upset. And the two began to argue at that point.’”
An employee at Bob’s Grand Island Grocery & Outlet showed us surveillance video of Meighan Cordie getting drinks, possibly before the wedding on Saturday. The time stamp is 4:32pm. Meighan disappeared around 10:30 that night. #LiveOnK2 pic.twitter.com/pTTJslyxFm— Catherine Van (@cat08van) August 22, 2018
Weathers told detectives they got into the car and drove a short distance, arguing the entire way. Cordie told her she wanted out of the car.
Weathers claimed she slowed to under 5 mph and her daughter jumped from the vehicle, Berry said. Further investigation would show that the car had to be going faster than that when Cordie fell or jumped from the car, the prosecutor said in September.
“She said she got out and tried to find her. She couldn’t find her, it was dark,” Berry said. “After looking for a period of time, she decided that Meighan probably would go back to the wedding, she’d sleep in the field or something, but she was pretty sure she would just come home the next day because Jennifer had Gia.”
Weathers’ “lack of reaction” to her daughter falling or jumping from the car, plus the accounts of wedding guests who said Weathers was visibly intoxicated, helped form the basis for her DUII charge, the prosecutor said. Weathers was also driving the wrong way toward home when her daughter tumbled from the vehicle.
Weathers told detectives she went home that night, but returned to the area the following day looking for her daughter. When she still could not find Cordie, she reported her missing.
Listen to Jennifer Weathers’ call reporting her daughter missing below.
Today we obtained the non-emergency call from Jennifer Weather's the mother of Meighan Cordie who went missing after a wedding in August near Dayton. DA says Cordie's death was ruled accidental and no charges are being filed at this time. #LiveOnK2 https://t.co/MdET19KBtw pic.twitter.com/XihGkmiTbo— Kellee Azar (@KelleeAzar) September 29, 2018
“My daughter’s been missing since last night,” Weathers said in her call to Yamhill County dispatchers, which was released to the news media. “And I’m getting kind of worried, ‘cause she's supposed to work in 10 minutes and I haven’t heard anything from her. We were at a wedding, and she was upset and got out of the car, and I haven’t heard from her since and I haven’t been able to find her. I drove around for two hours this morning looking for where she got out of the car, and so I don’t know if I should call 911 or if I have to wait a certain amount of time.”
The dispatcher told Weathers there isn’t a particular amount of time to wait to file a missing persons report and asks if she wants to report her daughter missing.
“Yeah, I think so. I’ve checked the hospitals and I’ve checked the jails, and she’s not in either one of those,” Weathers said.
Berry said in September that there was much more to Weathers’ initial story.
Investigators who searched Weathers’ car, with her permission, found a clump of hair on the front passenger seat. At that point, Weathers admitted that she and her daughter got into a physical fight after leaving the wedding.
She said Cordie had pulled her hair and yanked the clump of hair out, the prosecutor said.
Weathers agreed to take a polygraph test in the case, the results of which were inconclusive on whether she was being truthful about Cordie’s disappearance.
“She was confronted about that. She could not explain why the results might have been inconclusive,” Berry said. “Ultimately, then it was decided that she would take another polygraph examination the next day.
“That never happened.”
Weathers stopped cooperating with detectives at that point, Berry said.
The prosecutor said during his September news conference that Cordie could not have walked barefoot from where Weathers said she got out of the car to where her body was found. Cordie had no injuries or other indications on her feet to indicate she’d walked more than nine miles that night.
Cordie’s devastating injuries also could not have occurred if Weathers was driving under 5 mph, Berry said.
Berry said investigation into Weathers’ and Cordie’s activities after leaving the wedding indicate that Cordie got out of the car twice. The first time was a short distance from the venue.
“Jennifer at that point, we believe now, got out and convinced Meighan to get back in the vehicle,” Berry said.
Cordie, who had been sitting in the front passenger seat, got into the back seat and sat next to Gia, who was secured in a child safety seat.
A forensic interview with the toddler confirmed that Cordie was in the back seat of the car when she jumped or fell, Berry told reporters.
The argument between Weathers and Cordie continued, at which point Cordie made a call trying to find someone to come pick her up, the prosecutor said.
“That person’s indicated (he) could hear the screaming and yelling within the car; Meighan yelling at her mother,” Berry said.
The Dayton community takes a moment to remember Meighan Cordie ahead of the Dayton Friday Nights event in the town square pic.twitter.com/bv0AFsjj6m— Mike Benner (@MikeBennerKGW) August 25, 2018
He said it is impossible for investigators to know for sure if Cordie jumped from the vehicle or inadvertently unlatched the door as she argued with her mother and fell to her death. Her location in the backseat of the car showed it is unlikely that Weathers was able to push her out.
“There is nothing to indicate that the driver of that vehicle would have been able to in any way have pushed her out or anything along those lines. So that’s been eliminated,” Berry said. “There is no indication that anyone caused her to leave the vehicle. She did it on her own or accidentally.”
When asked by reporters if other charges, such as leaving the scene of an accident, would be filed against Weathers, Berry said there had been extensive discussions among the investigation team on the topic.
“Frustratingly so, there are really no charges, no crimes, where all the elements would fit,” Berry said.
It is unclear why Weathers waited until the following day to report her daughter missing.
Berry said the mother and daughter had a “difficult” relationship, but there was no indication of previous violence.
The prosecutor confirmed to reporters that Weathers apparently witnessed her daughter leaving the car the final time.
“We believe so, yes. I don’t know how she would not know somebody had left the vehicle,” Berry said.
Gia is now in the custody of her father. Weathers has been ordered to stay away from the little girl.
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