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D.A.: No charge in accidental death of 4-year-old

District Attorney Gregory A. Newman announced on Wednesday that he will not seek an indictment against Shirley Strickland in the accidental death of her 4-year-old grandson, Lance Duncan, last May 15, 2013 in Brevard.

The body of the child was discovered in the back of Ms. Strickland's van and the cause of death was determined to be heat stroke. National Weather Service records show that the high temperature on May 15 in Transylvania County was 87 degrees, which was well above the historical average temperature range for that time of year of 70-75 degrees.

According to the investigation of the Transylvania County Sheriff David Mahoney, Shirley Strickland left her Pisgah Forest home at approximately 7:15 am to take her four grandchildren to school and day care. She dropped one child off at Rosman High School and another child at Rosman Elementary School.

Her grandson, Lance, had fallen asleep in the back of the van.Ms. Strickland usually dropped him off at a day care, but she was distracted and forgot and went on to work at Smith Systems at 8:00 am. At approximately 1 pm, Ms. Strickland was contacted by the Kingsbridge House and told that she needed to make a rent payment on behalf of her invalid father. She left work, made the payment to Kingsbridge House and went home. When she went back to her van a short while later to go pick the grandchildren up from school, the 4-year-old was found found deceased in the back of the van.

"In this case, the only possible criminal charge is involuntary manslaughter," Newman said. "The facts, however, do not support that charge. Ms. Strickland was not behaving recklessly or negligently in any way. Like so many single mothers, as well as grandparents raising their grandchildren, Ms. Strickland was under enormous stress." According to the reports of the Sheriff's Office, Ms. Strickland had an adult son come back home to live. Then, in June 2012, her daughter Reba moved back home with her four children. Additionally, Ms. Strickland's invalid father, who was diagnosed with colon cancer, was placed in Kingsbridge House.

Ms. Strickland was the only one in the home working and paying bills. She was hospitalized at the Transylvania Regional Hospital for a period of two weeks in mid April and treated for symptoms caused by severe stress and depression. When she was released from the hospital on April 30 she continued to experience health problems and her doctor urged her to not return to work right away. The financial pressures, however, were so great that Ms. Strickland felt compelled to return to work on May 15 due to mounting bills at home and for her father at Kingsbridge.

Both District Attorney Newman and Sheriff Mahoney have concluded that pursuing some type of criminal action against Ms. Strickland is unsupported by the facts, Newman said in a news release.

"Every situation is different and we look at each individual case very closely where a death has occurred," he said. "But in this matter, Ms. Strickland was doing the best she could do under difficult family circumstances and she did nothing that approaches criminal culpability. This is a tragic, accidental occurrence and Ms. Strickland needs and deserves the prayers, support and compassion of the community. She is distraught over the loss of her grandson and I am not going to try to make her out to be some kind of criminal."

The district attorney may be contacted at 694-4200 for any additional information and/or interviews concerning this case.