Teen in foster care linked to car theft and fatal crash

10 investigators learned that the unlicensed teen behind the wheel had been caught driving illegally twice before the fatal accident.

COLOMBUS, Ohio – Ten months after a crash that killed a woman who was struck by a stolen car driven by an unlicensed teen in foster care, the Columbus Police Department referred her work to the Juvenile Attorney’s Office.

The adoptive parent who reported the stolen Mercedes last October told 10 investigators this week that he is no longer looking after any children but declined to comment on what prompted that decision. Franklin County Children’s Services only stated that “the agency is currently unrelated to this provider.”

The FCCS did not answer 10 follow-up questions from investigators about what prompted this decision or other concrete changes implemented following our reporting on this and other issues within the foster care system.

The incident raises questions about potential gaps in foster care settings and how they could have a direct impact on public safety.

10 investigators learned that the unlicensed teen behind the wheel had been caught driving illegally twice before the fatal accident. We have also reported how in recent years there have been multiple police calls to his adoptive parents’ home to report missing persons, stolen cars and domestic violence.

Taken together, it raises more questions about what FCCS screening is when you make foster care placements and the unique challenges for caseworkers, adoptive parents and children who can end up in the circle of the foster care system.

10 Investigators don’t name the teen or adoptive parent because no charges have been filed in the fatal accident

But here’s what we’ve learned:

  • During the first case in 2021, the 14-year-old boy was killed by Worthington police after he illegally drove him through the football fields of a school. Juvenile court records show that the case was dismissed by late June.
  • In late September, the teen again faced accusations of stealing a Dodge minivan from a foster group home in the Dayton area. The car was later recovered here in Columbus. But due to delays in determining where the teen might face charges — either in Montgomery or Franklin County — no charges were brought against him until October 22. This left a gap as he was assigned to another nursing home instead of in a juvenile prison.
  • After a short stay there, a blue Mercedes was reported stolen on October 3, 2021. Within minutes of being reported theft she was involved in a fatal accident near Noe Bixby and Refugee Roads that killed 58-year-old Paula Kennedy. Grandmother and long-time employee of Groveport-Madison Schools.

When contacted by phone this week, the teen’s mother said she could not comment.

While the Columbus Division of Police referred its investigation to the office of Christopher Clark, the chief juvenile attorney for Franklin County, Clark told 10 investigators by email that no criminal complaint had been filed.

Clark said by email that a competency assessment of the case would not be determined until after a complaint was filed. Assessments were made in the teen’s previous case relating to the stolen pickup truck.

Paula Kennedy’s daughters said they would like to see major changes implemented by the FCCS to ensure that nothing like what happened to their mother ever happens again.

Their ideas include more scrutiny of how adoptive parents and foster children can allocate each other and ensure that the child’s needs are met while ensuring public safety at the same time.

In follow-up emails between the FCCS and 10 investigators, the agency said:

“Although no child placement policies were found to require change, we increased the number of prevention-based contracts for high-risk youth…”

Additional follow-up questions led the agency to say it was working with other partners to:

“…rethinking, developing and securing placements/services that respond to the diverse and intense needs of our community’s youth…”

10 Investigates additional questions about what concrete changes or discussions have taken place that have not been answered.

“Our mother loved helping everyone. So I think losing her life might actually have a purpose. Because we haven’t figured out why it happened to her or us,” said Elizabeth Mesmer’s daughter.

As a former teacher at Columbus City School, Mesmer said she is sensitive to the needs of children in the foster care community because she was exposed.

“It seems very unfair. And I think he will always feel wronged. But to see the change happen and to turn it into something better,” said daughter Kathryn Hellwig.

Not very well but maybe the pain is a little less,” Mesmer shouted.

Katherine Hellwig continued, “I feel like…I try to be very optimistic and I think everyone has the best intentions. And I hope they’re still doing it, so yeah, I hope I see what happened with more than just this kid with other kids, and that they’re going to happen.” Big changes.”

If you have something you want us to know, feel free to send an email to our team at [email protected].

Caught In The Cycle . Series

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