A former Kansas City woman can’t be tried for manslaughter for allegedly supplying alcohol to a teenager later involved in a fatal traffic crash, a judge ruled Friday.
Jackson County prosecutors broke new legal ground in Missouri by charging Sandra S. Triebel with involuntary manslaughter after a guest who attended her 2009 Halloween party in Kansas City drove drunk and killed 16-year-old Laura B. Reynolds.
But in a written order Friday, Jackson County Circuit Judge Peggy Stevens McGraw found that Missouri law specifically states that it is the consumption of alcohol, and not the furnishing of it, “that is the proximate cause of injuries inflicted by a drunk driver.”
“While other states have concluded that social hosts may be held liable to third parties for injuries inflicted by an intoxicated person, Missouri has not,” McGraw wrote in her order dismissing the felony charge.
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Prosecutors alleged that Triebel, 47, who now lives in Chillicothe, Mo., purchased and mixed drinks for the party and knew that Kenneth S. Blake II was a minor at the time. The charges also allege that she knew Blake was intoxicated when he left the party.
Blake, who was 19 at the time, later was involved in the crash that killed Reynolds. He is serving a six-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to manslaughter and assault charges, according to Missouri Department of Corrections records.
Although there were no previous Missouri cases where someone was charged with manslaughter under similar circumstances, Jackson County prosecutors said at the time that Triebel exhibited “criminal negligence” by putting into play the series of events that led to the fatal crash.
In her ruling, McGraw noted that Missouri legislators could have passed a law making what Triebel allegedly did a crime, but it did not.
“Therefore, this court is reluctant to find that a social host can be held criminally liable for the actions of the underage drinker without a clear declaration from the legislature,” she wrote.
Triebel still faces misdemeanor charges of supplying alcohol to a minor and allowing the consumption of alcohol by a minor on her property.
Because those charges are pending, a spokesman for the Jackson County prosecutor’s office said he could not comment on McGraw’s order.
Tiffany Leuty, the attorney for Triebel, also declined comment.