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Vernal mom charged with manslaughter in baby’s death

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VERNAL — Uintah County prosecutors have filed a manslaughter charge against the mother of a medically fragile infant who died in June.

Benita Jean Shostrom, 34, was charged in 8th District Court with manslaughter, a second-degree felony, in connection with the death of 7-month-old Cali Rae Douglas. Prosecutors say the girl's death was the result of reckless conduct on her mother's part.

Shostrom called 911 on June 26 and told dispatchers she'd found her daughter dead in her crib, according to Uintah County Undersheriff John Laursen.

The baby was born prematurely and had a number of medical issues, Shostrom told investigators. A doctor had prescribed supplemental oxygen for the baby. Detectives said they found oxygen tanks in Shostrom's home, but determined that oxygen was not being administered as prescribed at the time of Douglas' death.

The state medical examiner listed the cause of death as "undetermined," Laursen said.

Shostrom told detectives she was already in bed when her teenage nephew put her daughter in her crib for the night. She added that she had taken a prescription drug used to treat anxiety disorders and it made her sleep through the night, Laursen said.

Shostrom did not have a valid prescription for the anti-anxiety medication, according to investigators.

Douglas is the second of Shostrom's children to die in infancy.

Shostrom's daughter, Sarina Marie Woods, was 16 months old when she died in Clifton, Colo., in April 2006. Mesa County sheriff's reports obtained by the Deseret News show that Shostrom found Woods dead in her crib.

An autopsy determined the baby — who had been born prematurely and also had ongoing medical issues — died from pneumonia. No criminal charges were filed.

On Wednesday, detectives and prosecutors in Uintah County told the Deseret News they were not aware of Woods' death, but said they plan to contact authorities in Colorado for additional information.

Shostrom has moved to California since Douglas' death. Efforts to contact her for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful, as were efforts to contact the baby's father.

Shostrom is slated to make her first court appearance Jan. 23.

E-mail: gliesik@desnews.com, Twitter: GeoffLiesik