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Accused of abandoning baby, mom sought drug treatment. Then a car hit and killed her.

Moms recording of baby talk before being hit and killed by a vehicle

Jessica Hanson recorded this video of her baby, who is now about eight months old. Hanson was hit by a vehicle in May, and died from her injuries.
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Jessica Hanson recorded this video of her baby, who is now about eight months old. Hanson was hit by a vehicle in May, and died from her injuries.

Alcohol was a problem for Jessica Hanson.

And she struggled with methamphetamine for several months this year, after years of being clean.

Then, while high on the drug, she made headlines earlier this year for leaving her 5-month-old son on a Lakewood lawn.

Still, she tried to get her life in order, her family and loved ones said.

“She was going to do everything she could to get her kids back,” said her mother, Lisa Freer of Bremerton.

She never got the chance.

Last month, two days before Hanson was to start drug and alcohol treatment, a car hit and killed the 31-year-old as she was walking in Spanaway.

The public knows Hanson as the mom who did drugs and abandoned her baby.

Her family and friends don’t deny her problems but remember a woman who also loved camping and fishing with her kids — like she did growing up in Alaska.

They remember her as a mother who was a stickler about homework being finished, and an 8:30 bedtime for her children.

And she was going to follow-through with sobriety, they believe.

“She wanted to get into a treatment place,” Freer said. “She believed she needed help.”

‘WHEN SHE WAS SOBER’

Hanson was drug-free for years at a time, her loved ones said.

Mike May dated Hanson for more than five years, and remembers his ex-girlfriend as a loving mother when they lived together, with her 8-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son.

The kids would visit their father in Oregon for a couple weeks each summer, May said, but Hanson couldn’t go that long without them.

“She’d get separation anxiety,” he said. “We would end up going down there and staying three or four days before we were supposed to pick them up, just so she could see them.”

May said he told Hanson he’d marry her if she could get her drinking under control.

Hanson was the kind of mother who made sure her kids had pets growing up, her family said. And one Christmas she scraped together money for a trampoline, which she jumped on with her children.

She’d been living with her father in Tonasket recently, but hoped to go back to school at some point, her family said.

She earned her GED and studied dental assisting for awhile. At times she worked at places such as St. Vincent de Paul, where she operated a forklift for the thrift store.

But mostly, she was a stay-at-home mom.

“Camping was just huge for her,” said her mother, Freer, who remembers her daughter’s smile and goofy sense of humor. “She had a group of friends — they would just go. Bring all the kids, have a barbecue, go swimming. That was their thing.”

The older children’s father, who was married to Hanson for several years, gave a similar account of her parenting.

“She was a fantastic mother and a great person,” David Criss said, “especially when she was sober.”

His kids live with him full-time now, and relatives are taking steps to get custody of Hanson’s youngest, an almost 8-month-old boy.

Family members of Jessica Hanson played this slideshow of her life at her memorial service in June. She was hit by a vehicle in May, and died from her injuries.

BYSTANDER FINDS THE BABY

On April 3, at 1:30 in the morning, a bystander found the little boy in the front yard of a home in the 8500 block of John Dower Road Southeast in Lakewood.

Hanson and her husband, the baby’s father, were traveling and visiting friends in Lakewood the day before. They left the child with friends, who babysat.

Another person in the house said Hanson came back about midnight, and the baby fell over when she set him on the couch, according to court records. The child rolled onto the floor and cried, then Hanson grabbed him and ran off.

A short time later Hanson, without the baby, knocked on a neighbor's door and asked to use the bathroom. Then she said she was being followed and again ran away.

After the child was found police were called. Officers found the baby clean and OK despite the 41-degree temperature that morning. He was taken to Mary Bridge Children's Hospital in Tacoma and put into protective custody.

Meanwhile, officers found Hanson outside, high on drugs, about 7 a.m., her family said, and got her to St. Clare Hospital in Lakewood. At the time, no one connected her to the abandoned child.

“It took three days before she was actually sober enough to where she was making any sense,” said her father, George Engelmann. “I had never seen her like that.”

Police publicized the child’s photo to try to identify him. While at the hospital, Hanson saw the baby on TV, and came forward.

She told investigators she’d snorted something white that night and that she believed people were trying to kill her and the baby.

Engelmann said his daughter told him she decided to leave the baby in a place where she saw people walking. She thought he’d start fussing right away and be found.

“She said: ‘I just wanted to save the baby’s life, and that’s all I could think of,’” Engelmann said.

Criss, her ex-husband, said he asked Hanson why she’d run. Apparently sober on her second day at the hospital, she told him there really had been someone chasing her. It wasn’t a hallucination.

“Who really knows what happened?” Criss said.

But he believes Hanson told him the truth.

“She is a very caring person, she was a great mother,” he said. “She would never do this to her kids. That’s why I sincerely think something happened, not just the act of hallucinating.”

Hanson told his sister, Billie Criss, the same thing — that someone had chased her and that it wasn’t in her mind.

“She put the baby down, thinking that if he caught up with her, he wouldn’t be able to hurt the baby,” she said.

A PROUD FATHER, THEN TRAGEDY

Once Hanson was released from the hospital Pierce County prosecutors charged her with child abandonment. She pleaded not guilty and bail was set at $25,000.

Engelmann rounded up the money and posted her bail April 12.

Meanwhile, Freer got Hanson into a Parkland rehab facility, called God’s Ranch.

“I can tell you that she read her Bible daily and wrote out her homework, went to Bible study three days a week and church three times a week,” said one of the facility’s founders, Reva Wren.

“The minute they come in we get them right to working. She would have definitely been cleaning the vehicles, working in the yard, working in the garden, keeping busy.”

Hanson left after two weeks, which Wren said probably isn’t long enough for someone to start focusing on the future, instead of the past.

“I don’t know that Jessica had quite got to that point,” she said.

Hanson liked the facility, her family said, but left because she wanted to find her husband, to try to get him into a similar program.

“You need to worry about yourself right now,” her dad told her.

She left anyway, and ended up finding her husband and doing drugs again, Engelmann said.

“She trusted people too much,” he said. “And she had kind of an addictive personality.”

When Engelmann found out about the relapse, he drove from Eastern Washington to see her. He told his daughter she wasn’t going to ever get her children back unless she straightened out.

“OK, Da-Da,” she’d say when he lectured her.

That talk was probably the last time he heard those words, Engelmann said.

The day after he went home, Hanson called to tell him she had gotten her driver license, made contact with Child Protective Services to talk about the kids and had an appointment in several days to start drug and alcohol treatment.

“I’m so happy, baby,” he told her. “I’m so proud of you.”

That was May 12, a Friday afternoon.

About 4:15 a.m. the next day, a passerby found Hanson unconscious in the road on 168th Street East in Spanaway. Investigators believe a driver hit her and fled. No arrest has been made in the case.

Two weeks later, she died from her injuries.

The hospital found depressants and stimulants in her system when she was admitted, Engelmann said.

“She made more bad decisions the last minute,” he said. “One last party.”

But Engelmann believes she was serious about getting treatment, and that she would have — come her appointment Monday morning.

For her kids.

“She would do anything for them,” he said. “And she had to this time. She knew she had to.”

Alexis Krell:

253-597-8268,

@amkrell

Investigators ask for help

Anyone with information about the hit-and-run that killed Jessica Hanson is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477). Callers remain anonymous, and tips might lead to up to a $1,000 reward.

A passerby found Hanson unconscious about 4:15 a.m. May 13 in the road on 168th Street East, near B Street East in Spanaway. She died from her injuries May 26 at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Hanson had left the residence where she was staying after an argument. Investigators believe she walked less than six blocks before an unidentified vehicle ran her over and fled, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said.

Investigators found a fog lamp and a red and black hubcap at the scene, but it wasn’t clear what sort of vehicle they came from.

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