Mom Arrested After Car Rolled Into Creek, Drowning Two Of Her Children, While She Was Shopping

Police said Janea Payne left her three children in a parked SUV while she ran into a store to shop, but the vehicle rolled into a nearby creek, quickly submerging the vehicle.

By Jill Sederstrom

A Mississippi mother left her three children unattended in a vehicle that rolled into a nearby creek, resulting in two of the kids drowning, according to police.

Leland Police said Janea Payne, 25, left her three children—ages 4, 2 and 1—alone in a Nissan Pathfinder while she went in to shop at a store Saturday, leaving the keys for the vehicle behind, according to the Clarion Ledger.

When she came out of the Stop-N-Shop, the car was gone and had rolled into the nearby Deer Creek, trapping the three kids inside the sinking vehicle.

The Leland Fire Chief and other rescuers jumped into the creek and attempted to “burst the windows out” of the vehicle to try to pull the three children out, but were only able to save Raelynn Johnson, 2, before the vehicle began to drift further down and into the creek, Leland Police said in a statement. Rescues were forced to swim back to safety, while the other two children remained trapped in the car.

The vehicle was recovered later that night around 8 p.m. with the help of a rescue dive team.

Payne’s two sons, Steve Smith, 4, and Rasheed Johnson Jr., 1, were found dead inside the vehicle.

Payne was charged Monday with manslaughter-culpable negligence and one count of child neglect.

Janea Payne's Three Children

Assistant Chief of Police Marcus Davis said Payne had left the sleeping children for about “five to 10 minutes” while she was in the store. He said the car had been turned off at the time, but the keys had been left behind.

Davis said investigators plan to “look into” how the 4-year-old, who was sitting in the front seat of the car, was able to get the keys into the ignition.

Firefighter Sara Hester, 30, was one of six people who helped save Raelynn Saturday, along with other law enforcement officers and several bystanders.

Janea Payne Mugshot

She told the Clarion Ledger she had been driving by the store at the time when she heard the fire chief come over the radio in a panic.

She saw the SUV submerged in the creek and a teenager who had jumped into the creek to try to break the vehicles windows. She grabbed a glassbreaker and “took off running” for the creek.

Rescuers were able to break the windows and retrieve Raelynn before the vehicle sank. Hester said the whole incident took “a minute.”

“This was an accident, 100 percent,” she told the local paper. “Everything about this was absolutely horrible. This could have happened to anybody.”

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