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Mom faces manslaughter charge in girl’s death

Battery in teen’s pacemaker was allowed to expire

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SPRINGFIELD, Ore. — Lacey Rossini was voted as having the best smile by her eighth-grade classmates, says friend Laura Larson.

"And they voted us the two cutest friends," said Laura. "We were best friends."

The honors were posthumous.

The 13-year-old was found dead at her home on Feb. 17, her pacemaker silent with a battery long past due for replacement.

Prosecutors say the girl died because the battery expired and that her mother's failure to arrange for a replacement, a simple surgery, amounted to criminal neglect

Lacey's mother, Lorraine "Lori" Simonis, is jailed on a manslaughter charge. A conviction would carry up to 20 years in prison. No trial date has been set, but Simonis, 38, has a court date on July 31.

Simonis and her lawyer have declined comment on the case.

Acquaintances and neighbors tell of a chaotic home life for a girl who knew the little device in her chest was failing and reached out to school friends and other parents for support.

Born with a heart defect, Lacey had three surgeries by the time she was 5. The pacemaker was installed to prevent potential lethal irregularities in her heartbeat.

Lacey was nine months overdue for a battery change at a Portland hospital when she died, said Bob Gorham, a deputy Lane County district attorney. She also had missed several annual examinations that doctors say are needed for children with pacemakers.

"We believe the last time the child was at a doctor's office was in 1997," Gorham said. "Prior to then the parents had been relatively responsible about it."

Children with pacemakers and regular medical attention have normal life expectancy, said Dr. Seshadri Balaji, a pediatric cardiologist at Portland's Doernbecher Children's Hospital. The Oregon Health Plan, a state-sponsored plan that covered Lacey, pays for the pacemakers and checkups, he added.

Mary Larson, Laura's mother, said Lacey was constantly around her daughter. The pair lived two blocks apart in this town of 52,000.

"Lacey was like an instant fit with Laura, and she called me Mom," Larson told The Associated Press. "She had bonds with us."

Lacey was an active girl, but signs of her heart trouble gradually increased, Larson said. She had breathing trouble while playing basketball, then a dizzy spell during choir practice.

Lacey had told her mother she felt the pacemaker was running down, Larson said, and Lori Simonis told her that Lacey at some point would need to go to the hospital.

"I don't understand why Lacey didn't demand that," said Larson. "Maybe it's just that you always trust your mother. And she felt if she rocked the boat, she upset the whole family."

Larson, her daughter Laura and other friends of Lacey's sprinkled rose petals on her grave July 3, which would have been her 14th birthday.

Hindsight has brought guilt, said Larson.

"If she was my child, I'd had her to the doctor," she said. "But I wasn't the mom. Society says you don't interfere with the mom."

Lacey also seemed grown up and responsible, Larson said, because she often took care of younger siblings.

"It takes a village to raise a child, but no one listened. We all left it up to Lacey," Larson said.

"And I didn't know we were on a time line. I didn't know that come Feb. 17, I could no longer do anything."