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Emily Welker, Published October 11 2013

Moorhead dad whose baby girl died in hot van pleads guilty

MOORHEAD – Andrew Sandstrom pleaded guilty Friday to a manslaughter charge in the death of his youngest daughter, admitting he left the 5-month-old in a hot van for several hours in June while he was in charge of his six children, all under 7 years old.

The 24-year-old Moorhead man testified in Clay County District Court that he caused the death of his 5-month-old daughter, Christiana, when he left her in the family van parked outside the family’s apartment June 11.

Asked if he accepted responsibility for the child’s death, Sandstrom said, “Yes. I’m her father – I should have been the first one to protect her,” before breaking down in tears.

“It’s a difficult thing to see a parent responsible for the death of their child,” said Clay County Attorney Brian Melton, who said he would seek a one-year jail sentence for Sandstrom following his plea to second-degree manslaughter.

Melton said state sentencing guidelines call for a four-year prison sentence under the circumstances, given Sandstrom’s lack of criminal history, but given Sandstrom’s willingness to be accountable for the crime, he felt the lower sentence was appropriate.

Sandstrom’s sentencing is set for Dec. 13.

Police were called to the Sandstroms’ home the night of June 11 after the father called police to say his daughter was unconscious and not breathing. Court documents state he told police he fell asleep watching the children while his wife was at work.

It was not the first time police visited the Sandstroms’ home. In three previous instances dating back to 2010, police were called to their home following child neglect allegations.

One of the earlier reports claimed a teacher reported the Sandstrom children had not been to school for a week, and that the home had no electricity or food. In two of the visits, officers reported poor living conditions in the home.

On all three occasions, police decided the children were not in immediate danger, and did not remove from the home. The children were placed in foster care after Christiana died.

Mara Rausch, who represents Sandstrom’s wife, Shayna, in the child protection case in civil court, said she thinks criminal charges should not have been filed against Andrew Sandstrom.

“Reports aren’t necessarily substantiated,” Rausch said, adding that child neglect complaints can be made anonymously. “I think it’s a terrible situation and something really bad happened.”

Sandstrom’s surviving children have been returned to their parents from foster care, following a recent court hearing in which Andrew Sandstrom admitted the children were in need of protection or services, according to his child protection attorney, Shawn Schmidt.

Rausch said the school-age children were once again attending class and were going to day care while their mother was at work.

Schmidt said the state would still maintain regular review hearings. The past five months had been difficult for the Sandstrom family, he said.

“They are good parents – he’s a good father,” Schmidt said. “This is really just a tragic event.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541