Prosecutor: Christopher Marks' Death Caused by Stepfather's 'Criminal Conduct'
Marks' stepfather was charged with seven counts of endangering a child, avoiding more serious charges because authorities can't prove the child's blood-alcohol content, said St. Louis County Prosecuting Robert McCulloch.
Todd Combs was not charged with a more serious crime because authorities are unable to prove the intoxication level in 12-year-old Christopher Marks’ body, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch said Thursday morning.
Marks drowned Aug. 5 in the Meramec River during a group outing at Pacific Palisades Conservation Area near Eureka. The 42-year-old Combs, who is Marks' stepfather, provided alcohol for the group, which included Marks and six teens, all 15 years old.
Combs, of the of the 7800 block of LaBelle Street in Affton, was charged Wednesday with seven counts of endangering a child’s welfare. That’s one count for each underage person at the outing, including Marks.
“The death of this child is clearly caused by the criminal conduct of this individual,” McCulloch said during a news conference Thursday at the St. Louis County Justice Center.
“But we can only charge what we can prove,” he said.
Marks' body was recovered nearly three days later six miles downstream. McCulloch said the body’s condition prevented authorities from determining the child’s blood-alcohol content level at the time he died. Decomposition produces ethanol in the body, hampering efforts to determine pre-death alcohol levels.
McCulloch said a manslaughter charge would have required prosecutors to prove the role alcohol played in Marks' death. That would be difficult without a blood-alcohol level, he said.
McCulloch said Combs provided a cooler filled with alcoholic beverages and refilled the cooler at one point during the Aug. 5 outing.
At least one of Christopher’s family members shared with Patch that the endangering a child charges fall short, in their mind. Christopher’s great aunt, Donna Sherman, told Patch that "a slap on the wrist and a fine to Combs is not nearly enough."
McCulloch said that there are times prosecutors know what occurred, but simply can’t prove it.
“We’re disappointed that we can’t determine the full extent of what exactly what occurred,” the prosecuting attorney said.
Each charge of endangering a child is a class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum sentence of one year in county and up to a $1,000 fine.
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