Mother sentenced to jail time
Although social service workers stood in her defense, the mother of a 3-year-old killed in an Ashland apartment fire will go to prison for her role in the child's death.
Michelle Lea Wimberly, 26, of the 1000 block of Stevens Street, Medford, was ordered Friday to spend one year and nine months in prison. She pleaded guilty in Jackson County Circuit Court last month to charges of criminally negligent homicide and fourth-degree assault.
The charges stem from a February 2002 fire that killed Ashley Nicole Day, and injured Kimberly Ann Day, then 16 months old.
A former methamphetamine addict, Wimberly initially was charged with second-degree manslaughter, which would have required a minimum prison sentence of six years and three months under Oregon's tough-on-crime law, Measure 11. Although prosecutors argued for prison time under the lesser charge, Wimberly's supporters still hoped she could serve probation and remain with her children.
If she is taken away from our kids, it would be equally as tragic as (Ashley's) death, said the girls' father, Lewis Day.
— Wimberly had been using meth when she placed two lighted sticks of incense on a shelf in the girls' room the morning of Feb. 7, prosecutors said. The smoldering stick either fell or touched ribbons and fabric on the shelf, igniting the blaze, fire officials said.
A roommate noticed a fire was burning behind the closed door to the girls' room, said prosecutor Terry Smith-Norton.
However, Wimberly had such a high level of meth in her body that neighbors could hardly rouse her from her bed.
Wimberly eventually pulled Kimberly outside where police officers noted that she appeared to be under the influence of meth, later confirmed by a blood test.
Ashley was pronounced dead that day at Rogue Valley Medical Center. Kimberly was hospitalized with serious injuries and released three days later. Wimberly was arrested more than a year later after entering drug treatment.
Wimberly's probation officer and addiction counselors attested to her sobriety over the past year and a half, adding that separating Wimberly from Kimberly and her 1-year-old daughter ' born after the fire ' would be detrimental to the children's well-being.
She never once minimized the death of her daughter, said probation officer Jarren Atkinson. She's been a role model for other women.
Wimberly has played an active part in Kimberly's treatment for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, said a counselor with Jackson County mental health.
Child welfare workers said they now have no concerns for the girls' safety and affirmed in November that they could remain with their parents.
For the last year and a half, we've built a house of recovery and happiness, Day said.
Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Mejia commended Wimberly on her progress but said he felt obligated to send her to prison.
There is no satisfactory way to deal with this case, he said, adding that he would recommend any prison programs that could shorten her sentence.
Wimberly's supporters intervened when the judge pronounced she would go immediately from the courtroom to jail. Mejia said he would allow Wimberly a week to prepare her children for her absence.
Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail