Free-Range Kids

3-Year-Old Dies in Freak Escalator Accident, Police Charge Mom With Child Abuse

If she is found guilty, she could face a maximum of 150 days in jail.


Jiterria Lightner and her three kids, ages 4, 3 and 2, were at the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, on their way home from a trip to Florida. While Lightner sat less than 15 feet away, trying to arrange a ride, her kids were playing in a little space between the escalator and the stairs.

In the freakiest of freak accidents, 3-year-old Jaiden took hold of the railing, was carried up the escalator, and then fell to his death, reports WCNC.

The tragedy was originally deemed an accident. But the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department decided this week to take out three misdemeanor warrants against the mom, charging her with child abuse. If she is found guilty, she could face a maximum of 150 days in jail.

Of course, if this was really about a mom not supervising her kids, how does taking her away from them for 150 days make things better? Obviously, it doesn't. That's why I don't think it's really about a lack of supervision. I think it's about fear. The fact that this truly could happen to any of us is so scary, we can't deal with it. So instead, we—or at least the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police—pretend that no, this only happens to terrible parents who are criminally abusive. Not to saintly you and me.

It echoes the way we used to blame rape victims: She was asking for it by wearing that outfit. I would never be raped because I don't ask for it. Our fear made us twist the victim into the perp, or at least the accomplice.

Our fear that something this horrific could happen out of the blue (at the end of a vacation, even) seems to turn a normal person in a normal circumstance into the depraved author of her own grief. If she's a terrible mom then this tragedy serves her right and the universe still seems fair. We can breathe a sigh of relief.

Except we can't. Not when the authorities can pretend bad things only happen to bad people.

When that is society's assumption, parents feel compelled to helicopter. They know they cannot count on sympathy and support if, God forbid, an unpredictable tragedy occurs. Remember the mom whose child fell into the gorilla enclosure? Surely that was as unpredictable as this sad airport story. And yet, many people reacted as if all moms should be on high alert anytime their child is at the zoo, because it is so darn common and so very likely that their kids could fall into a cage. Hindsight, fear, and a deep unwillingness to recognize the fickleness of fate combined into a storm of hate and victim-blaming.

As lawyer Greene put it: "This is one of those incidents that could've happened to any one of the members of this community, and, unfortunately, the decision came down to charge her with a crime."

Unfortunate indeed. And chilling.

NEXT: With This Forfeiture Trick, Innocent Owners Lose Even When They Win

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  1. It echoes the way we used to blame rape victims: She was asking for it by wearing that outfit. I would never be raped because I don’t ask for it. Our fear made us twist the victim into the perp, or at least the accomplice.

    I hate when libertarians adopt left wing hate-mantras. Urging people to take safety precautions is not blaming them if they don’t work. Claiming so is just demonizing the the other.

    1. Shit happens. You can protect against almost everything, at the expense of doing nothing. Want to protect against blue ice from airliners? Against dead birds falling from the sky? Against bears wandering into cities?

      Throwing someone in jail for this is pathetically stupid.

      1. None of which has anything to do with her absurd example of blaming the victim. If someone put out a sign saying keep away from the “space between the escalator and the stairs” would we say doing so is blaming the victim?

        This is fucking stupid.

    2. So much this! I would ask people, if you took out $1000 from your bank account, would you go walking around town waving the money around? No. It doesn’t mean you “deserve” to get robbed. No one minding their own business deserves to get robbed. Or raped. Or anything. But, there are really shitty people in the world. Trying to take a few precautions to lessen the probability that one of those shitty people is going to ruin your day isn’t blaming the victim. It is empowering anyone and everyone to take care of themselves.

      1. In the old days, “She shouldn’t have have dressed like that” did NOT mean she was wearing hooker clothes. She might merely have been dressed like any other woman going out for a night on the town. The idea that every woman has to be dressed as your grandma otherwise they deserve to get raped it fucking stupid.

        It’s not like having money in the air, it’s rather like wearing nice shoes. “If he didn’t want to get mugged he shouldn’t have been wearing fancy Italian loafers…” Fuck that shit.

    3. The narrative the police are perpetrating is that children must be kept in protective bubbles and never taken to airports that have escalators. That you buy into this narrative is profoundly sad.

      1. That you buy into this narrative is profoundly sad.

        Apparently you can’t even understand my criticism of that comment does not mean I support this prosecution.

        Try to smarten up before you comment again, you’re embarrassing yourself.

  2. If only she had been wearing a badge and tossing a stun grenade into the child’s crib…

    1. Why is there a baby in a known drug house?

      1. Right because cops never raid the wrong address.

        1. Don’t want your baby’s face blown off with a grenade tossed by our uniformed heroes, don’t let your baby sleep in a drug crib.

  3. 150 days in jail to teach her to not let her other kids die?

  4. Why weren’t the police there to prevent that child from grabbing the escalator rail? The mother should sue.

    Oh, yeah. Warren vs. District of Columbia.

  5. Of course, if this was really about a mom not supervising her kids, how does taking her away from them for 150 days make things better?


    1. Are you just pretending to be stupid? Hard to tell these days.

  6. How much of this is about liability and insurance coverage being twisted into criminal liability?

    Who is responsible for this? Can the store be sued for wrongful death? Do they owe something to the parents? Or was the child the mother’s responsibility?

    Such crude questions in the midst of tragedy, but how much of this is driven by access to competing insurance that won’t pay out funeral expenses or hospital bills until the courts have determined who is truly at fault?

    1. That was my thinking. The airport doesn’t want to be liable so they got the cops to arrest her for child abuse. Like to see how the case gets settled. My guess: no time for her but she admits it was her fault so that she can’t sue in civil court.

      1. She might not have to do any jail time but it will go on her record and CPS will make her life more of a living hell than it already is

      2. There was a frivolous lawsuit story a couple years ago where a driver it a bicyclist that resulted in the bicyclist’s death. The driver then sued the parents for emotional trauma.

        It sounded so incredibly awful, but it ended up being an insurance dispute. The driver was found not at fault by investigators/police and her insurance wouldn’t cover her bills. She had to sue the family in order to get their insurance to pay up.

        When stories like these come up, I’d like journalists to inform readers insurance disputes are at the center of it so we could adequately respond to it. If the market should pick winners and losers, we should be given some idea who is withholding payouts for what we paid in. Otherwise, what’s the point in paying in in the first place?

        1. Except there is no way that the prosecutor’s office should ever be in the middle of an insurance dispute. That would be a flagrant abuse of the office, charging someone with a crime so that an insurance policy doesn’t have to pay up.

  7. Charlotte is in North Carolina, not Virginia.

    1. There is a Charlotte County in Virginia but clearly not where this happened. I guess Reason does not encourage their writers to do basic proofreading

      1. Charlotte, NC is darkest flyover country. Klan-infested, shoeless, sister-fucking, terbaccky-spitting, one strap-overalls while drinking untaxed corn-likker from a xxx-marked jug country. You can’t expect a cosmopolitan citizen-of-the-world to know anything about such backward dangerous places.

        1. And yet Charlotte is a pretty left of center city.

        2. . . . and yet Charlotte is tied with SanFran as the 2nd largest US banking center.

        3. You clearly know nothing about Charlotte. 80% of the people are from NY, Ohio, and PA. More than half of the people in Charlotte are college or post-grad degree holders.

          So you might want to do the slightest bit of research before spouting off about things you clearly know nothing about. Makes you look foolish.

    2. There is also a Charlottesville in Virginia.
      Wonder which way the autocorrect went wrong and the woke editors slept through it?
      Because if it was Charlottesville, I blame the democratic sweep in the elections.
      On the other hand, if it was Charlotte NC, I blame the pandering to the alphabet lobby.

  8. “In the freakiest of freak accidents, 3-year-old Jaiden took hold of the railing, was carried up the escalator, and then fell to his death, reports WCNC.”

    That’s not freakiest. Its not even a freak accident.

    1. Yeah. I’d need more details on how specifically this happened before I can declare it “super-freaky.” It’s rare because usually parents don’t let children under 5 play near escalators, but there are actual dangers to escalators.

      Some more thoughts: I’ve never seen an escalator in an airport with no traffic. There was probably a grown-up in the immediate proximity of a child who was playing on the railing of the escalator. Did they refuse to remove the kid because they were afraid of being scolded for interfering in someone else’s children? Or were they refusing to notice? And does charging this mother, blaming her, help assuage the guilt of people who might have been a position to act at a moment of crisis?

      1. According to the footage from multiple security cameras, she completely ignored them as they tripped, fell, and continued to play on the stairs and escalator for over an hour.

        So not a “freak” accident–nor a conspiracy to punish an innocent mother. Rather, charges of neglect so that the rest of society isn’t blamed or held responsible to babysit everyone else’s kids so that mother/father/guardian can ignore them.

  9. Anyone else thinking that if her name was Karen and she was white, it would have been “we’re very sorry, ma’am, pls go home and mourn your child.”

    1. Without more information, I’m leaning towards ‘No’. If her husband was on the way to pick her and the kids up in the fully-loaded, current model year Porsche/Infiniti/Lexus/Mercedes/Audi SUV, then yes.

  10. I don’t know about abuse, neglect maybe. It’s not helicopter parenting to keep children under 4 away from escalators it’s common sense.

  11. I wonder if this isn’t about forestalling a potential lawsuit by the parents.

  12. As if losing her child wasn’t punishment enough. ????

  13. Kamala Harris would be proud! Which should say something.

  14. Lenore is the only person I know of speaking out against declaring bad luck or being victimized by Acts of God a felony. What if a meteor falls on a kid while mom is gossiping over the backyard fence?

  15. I see some folks around here are of the “pretend parent” type. I’d think it would be obvious, even if you don’t have kids, but a 3 year old grabbing the rail of an escalator and hanging from it doesn’t take a half an hour… it takes a few seconds. And it isn’t exactly a predictable failure mode – although at least 2 of my kids absolutely would still try that at the ages of 9 and 12.

    Even if you have 1 kid …. you think you know….. you don’t know. 3 kids is an entirely different animal. It is impossible to bubble wrap 3 kids 24/7. (and unhealthy as well)

  16. Everyone involved in the decision to prosecute this one should be taken out back and flogged. The legal profession needs to step up on this one – they have been too complicit in allowing prosecutors to abuse their office this way. We have prosecutors looking to send kids to jail and put them on the sex offender registry for life because they shared naked pictures with their boyfriend/girlfriend – and the legal community does nothing. We have prosecutors claiming that DNA that exonerates an accused child rapist could have gotten on the kid’s underwear “at any time” – and the legal profession does nothing.

    Well, not nothing. They invented “absolute immunity” all but out of thin air to protect their own. But other than that?

    At a minimum, local and state bar associations should be prioritizing this kind of pandering BS and working hard to unseat prosecutors who take this route.

    Of course, that ain’t happening. Far from it. In fact, things are taking a far darker turn. We now have a NY state AG who ran for office on a promise to “get Trump, Trump’s family and anyone associated with Trump”. So if you thought the Tom Delay affair was an outlier, I’m afraid that’s not where we are headed. More politicization of prosecutor’s offices seems to be in the offing. And it won’t change as long as the Bar doesn’t see a problem with it.

    Being “tough” on inattentive parents (or just plain victims of circumstance) is but one symptom of a system that rewards populist pandering but does not punish prosecutorial excesses or outright abuses.

    1. I’m not sure what you mean? Are you claiming that parents are absolved of any responsibility–regardless of the time period of their neglect?

      So you are arguing that if she had just left her children completely alone to fend for themselves–that would be okay too. It’s up to the rest of us to make sure that her kids are safe, fed, cared for. Otherwise, it’s some “deep state” tactic ?

  17. And Lenore..

    Thanks for making me crazy paranoid. Every time one of my kids gets hurt riding a bike or climbing trees, I worry that I’m going to run into one of these nanny state types and my entire life is going to head sideways – ending with me being featured on “free range kids” as a cautionary tale.

    1. They are everywhere. I’ve run into them plenty. You can do a lot to mitigate it IME by being very aggressive if they poke up their heads.

      That said, this particular story sucks. Does it hit the legal definition for prosecution? Probably. Should we be prosecuting this woman? No. And anyone with 3+ kids understands this, but since not having kids is becoming so common, and those who do have them are trending toward 1-2, it is not going to get better, it is going to get worse.

    2. I do the same thing. My kids have been walking to school by themselves since first grade. I’m pretty certain a great deal of people are judging me for giving them the latitude to pass one house on the way to the school yard.

      1. Completely different.

        Allowing your children to walk to school by themselves is quite different than sitting on your porch for an hour while they play in traffic. According to many comments–it makes complete sense for you to allow your kids to play in traffic for an hour. If one gets hit? Not your fault.

  18. Yeah, now that she’s down kick her. It’s safer than arresting illegals and smugglers.

  19. Another child killed by fully-automatic assault stairs. How many more lives must be lost before we ban this menace?

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