W. Richland fire survivor accused of sex with minor

May 4, 2011 

WEST RICHLAND - Police are investigating allegations that the husband of a West Richland woman who died in a March house fire was having a sexual relationship with their teenage baby sitter.

Officers continue to investigate the fatal fire, and are still waiting for results of lab reports that may help determine what caused the fire that killed Sandy St. George.

Her husband, Thomas St. George, escaped the March 18 fire but said he wasn't able to save his wife.

While the fire investigation continues, West Richland Police Chief Brian McElroy confirmed Tuesday that his department also is looking into reports of an inappropriate sexual relationship between Thomas St. George and a minor.

A task force made up of Tri-City fire officials and law enforcement, along with federal agents, hasn't yet decided what sparked the fire, which has been labeled "undetermined."

An autopsy performed on Sandy St. George, 26, failed to show what killed her. Further tests were ordered to get "a definitive answer," which were expected to take two to three months to complete, the coroner said at the time.

"We do have an ongoing investigation, and because it is ongoing there won't be any further comment regarding it," McElroy said.

Detectives looking into the fire are waiting for "items from the (Washington State Patrol) crime lab and also the coroner's findings" before moving forward on that, McElroy said.

The chief would not further discuss the investigation into sexual allegations.

Thomas St. George, 27, did not return a phone call seeking comment Tuesday.

He has three sons, ages 1-4, and reportedly hired the teen baby sitter in July to watch the kids and help keep the house clean. The boys were staying with a family friend and weren't home when the 5:30 a.m. fire killed their mother.

St. George said he managed to escape after he was awakened by a barking dog. He was treated afterward at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland for smoke inhalation.

Court documents filed last month in Benton County Superior Court by the girl's parents claim St. George and their 16-year-old daughter have been involved in a relationship since last year.

The parents filed on April 18 for a restraining order to keep St. George away from them, their daughter and any of their other children.

They said in the order that St. George and the girl were found "snuggling" in the hospital while he recovered after the fire and that he "refuses to comply with our wishes to abandon all contact with our daughter," even though he had been asked several times by "detectives, pastors, lawyers and ourselves."

The documents also claim St. George had added the girl to his bank account and is giving the teen money for a legal fight to be free from her parents' authority. They also say he has given her a car, laptop and cell phones to secretly communicate while police investigate the fire, and that he has told people the girl was kicked out of her home when she actually ran away and reportedly was found by police at his house.

But on his Facebook page Monday night, St. George posted a lengthy statement he titled "seek the truth befor (sic) you accuse." He said his wife was aware of the bank account and it was set up so she could transfer money to the girl for babysitting and the girl could repay them for the car.

St. George's Facebook statement added: "I wish I had died in that fire every minute. I wish I could have saved her, I wish I didn't passout maybe I could have done something different. ... I am not saying (the teen) was not close to my Family, because that be a lie, we DIDN'T have a sexual relationship."

The girl and her parents are not being named by the Herald because the case involves potential sexual abuse.

In the restraining order, the parents wrote, "Prior to all that is currently happening, Thomas was told on several occasions that his constant attention to our daughter was inappropriate and should cease, but he has never respected that request."

A temporary order was signed at 8:46 a.m. that same day by Judge Carrie Runge. Then last Friday, Court Commissioner Jerri Potts approved a permanent order good through April 2012.

The same day the parents filed for a restraining order, St. George sought his own protection order against the girl. He claimed she was continuing to text and call his work cell phone, despite requests for her to stop.

"I understand she just lost her best friend, my wife, but I have to work," he wrote. "I only wish to have this order for 90 days until she can deal with her friend's loss."

However, St. George left the courthouse before his petition could be reviewed and never returned, so Judge Cameron Mitchell late that afternoon denied the temporary antiharassment order and dismissed the case.

Meanwhile, the girl is seeking emancipation from her parents. A petition was filed April 7 and arguments were made April 22 before Judge Vic VanderSchoor, but court records show it was continued to a later date with no ruling.

Her lawyer, Moe Spencer of Kennewick, could not be reached Tuesday.

The documents state that the girl is home-schooled and has cared for herself, including making medical appointments and shopping for clothes, for years because of a stressful and unpleasant situation at home. She told the court she owns two vehicles but is trying to sell one, and has a number of jobs such as cleaning house and baby-sitting "for different people on an as-needed basis" so she can support herself.

The girl also was an independent contractor with the Tri-City Herald as a newspaper carrier until she quit her job last week. In text messages to the Herald in late March, the girl said she had been in a relationship with St. George for about seven months, beginning when she was 15 years old.

She also wrote that it was a sexual relationship, that St. George had given her jewelry, including a ring she wore on her left hand, and that she treated the St. George children as if they were her own.

The girl said in one message that Sandy St. George knew her husband and the baby sitter "were extremely close but didn't know we were this close." She also said Thomas St. George was "trying to fix his marriage."

A couple of weeks prior to the fire, the girl texted that she "completly (sic) gave up and told him that he's marrief (sic) to Sandy and he is hers for as long as she wants. He was taking her on that camping trip to tell her he hasn't been faithfull (sic) to her. ... He felt like he needed to be honest and had accepted the fact that i wasn't going to be his ..."

The Herald took the information to prosecutors and police because the messages referred to an alleged sexual relationship between a minor and an adult.

However, the girl denied any sexual involvement and claims in her emancipation petition that detectives interviewing her about St. George were "trying to trick me into saying stuff."

"They told me it would make Thomas' case look better if I said we did something and that he couldn't get in trouble for it 'cause I am 16," she wrote to the court. "After about 3-4 hours of them trying to get me to talk I sarcastically told them we had sex "in the house and in all of their vehicles." I was just trying to get them to stop. Now my parents and the police won't leave (me) alone. He didn't do anything to me he loves his wife more then (sic) anyone I know."

The girl further claimed that her parents were trying to force her to lie and inaccurately tell police that St. George did something to her.

"What I told them was only to get them to leave me alone because they were pressuring me and telling me what they wanted to hear ...," she said. "I enter under oath that this statements are true, that Thomas St. George did not touch or have sex with me. And I do not wish to be pressured to say he did."

The girl's mother on Tuesday declined to talk about the allegations, telling the Herald that it already has caused enough trouble for the family and "we do not want to make it any worse."

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