Mother of child who died in Steamboat Island fire pleads not guilty to manslaughter

Ashley A. Conroy, the mother of the toddler who died in a Steamboat Island house fire, pleaded not guilty to manslaughter in Thurston County Superior Court on Tuesday morning.

The 22-year-old woman was arrested after the Nov. 3 fire but released from the Thurston County Jail on her personal recognizance the following day after Judge Anne Hirsch determined that she wasn’t a flight risk.

According to Thurston County Coroner Gary Warnock, 18-month-old William Bradsnyder died of smoke inhalation during the fire.

Thurston County Deputy Prosecutor Joe Jackson said Conroy is currently facing alternative charges, meaning she could be charged with first-degree manslaughter or second-degree manslaughter depending on how the case plays out. The charge could ultimately be decided by a jury if the case goes to trial, or Conroy could plead guilty to one of the charges.

“It all depends on how much culpability they decide she has in the case,” Jackson said.

But Office of Assigned Counsel attorney Larry Jefferson, who will likely represent Conroy, objected to the alternative charges because the declaration of probable cause filed Nov. 4 only carries second-degree manslaughter charges.

“The court has not made a ruling on probable cause for first-degree manslaughter,” Jefferson said.

Hirsch said that she wouldn’t make any new probable cause rulings during Tuesday’s hearing.

Court documents give the following account of the circumstances leading to Conroy’s arrest:

Thurston County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a home at 7030 Steamboat Island Road at 4:55 a.m. and found an 18-month-old boy who had died in a fire. The home was a converted shop building with three bedrooms, heated exclusively with portable heaters.

The fire appeared to have started in a bedroom that had been heated with an electric grill, with the grill portion removed. Other residents of the home told deputies that Conroy had been warned on several occasions not to use the grill as a heater — especially after the grill started two smaller fires in the past month. Residents had been able to extinguish the fires on their own.

The grill was found plugged into the wall and less than a foot away from the bed. The room was dirty and filled with clothes, garbage and car parts.

Conroy told deputies that she had put her son to sleep at about 2:30 a.m. and left to eat in a neighboring building. She said she had been gone for about 30 minutes when another resident discovered that the room had caught on fire.

A nearby man tried to rescue the child, but he wasn’t able to enter the room because of the flames. Conroy also tried to enter the room and received a minor burn on her face when she opened the door.

The child was found under a desk, with the heater cord wrapped around his left leg. Based on his injuries, deputies believe that he had been crawling through the room and became tangled in the cord before the fire started.

According to court documents, Conroy has no known criminal history. A first-degree manslaughter conviction could carry a sentence of 61/2 to 81/2 years in prison. A second-degree manslaughter conviction could lead to between one year, nine months and two years, three months in prison.

Conroy’s trial is set for the week of Feb. 9.