In re M.O., 22-1466

CourtCourt of Appeals of Iowa
Writing for the CourtBADDING, Judge.
PartiesIN THE INTEREST OF M.O., Minor Child, M.O., Father, Appellant.
Docket Number22-1466
Decision Date17 November 2022

IN THE INTEREST OF M.O., Minor Child, M.O., Father, Appellant.

No. 22-1466

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 17, 2022

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Cherokee County, David C. Larson, Judge.

A father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his child. AFFIRMED.

Dean A. Fankhauser of Vriezelaar, Tigges, Edgington, Bottaro, Boden &Lessman, L.L.P., for appellant father.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Ellen Ramsey-Kacena, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State. Lesley D. Rynell of Juvenile Law Center, Sioux City, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor child.

Considered by Bower, C.J., and Greer and Badding, JJ.



When this child was two years old, his father killed his mother and unborn baby sister in a drug-fueled car crash. The father went to prison, and the child was placed into the guardianship of his maternal grandfather. Close to six years later, the child was removed from the grandfather's care. This removal led to the end of the guardianship and termination of the father's parental rights. The father appeals. Though he agrees the statutory grounds for termination were met under Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(b) and (f) (2022), the father claims termination is not in the child's best interests. We disagree on our de novo review of the record.[1]

The story of the mother's death was told in an exhibit admitted into evidence at the hearing to terminate the father's parental rights. In March 2015,

[w]itnesses said that they saw [the mother's] Chevy Blazer swerving all over the road; the windows were down and they could hear [the father] screaming at her, calling her [derogatory names]. The car was going 120 miles per hour when it hit a patch of water and began to skid off the road. It flipped three times before hitting a tree and finally coming to rest in the swampland at the side of the highway

A witness saw the father emerge from the wreck, pulling the couple's two-year-old child out after him. He left the child by the side of the highway and tried to flee from the scene. A bystander climbed down to the car and found the mother, who was nearly nine months pregnant, "crushed under it.... She was still alive . . . but barely." Once the paramedics arrived, they could not save the mother or her


unborn child. The father was determined to have been driving, and his toxicity screen was positive for alcohol, methamphetamine, marijuana, and synthetic marijuana. Police later reported the father "was still so high and drunk as they drove him from the hospital to the police station that he kept laughing and cracking jokes and telling them to play him his favorite song."[2] The father had a history of drug and alcohol abuse, and his relationship with the mother was violent until the end.

The child was placed into the care of his maternal grandfather the night of the crash. They later moved to Iowa. The father was convicted of vehicular homicide and sentenced to prison in Louisiana, where the crash occurred, in 2017. He has had no contact with the child since then. While the father believed he would be released in early 2023, he acknowledged the child could "not be placed with [him] immediately" and "there would be a very lengthy transition."

Since this early trauma in his life, the child has suffered from mental-health issues and aggressive behavior. Because of the child's "difficulties with temper tantrums, meltdowns," defiance, and opposition, he has bounced from placement to placement, with none able to manage his behaviors. As a result, the child was living in a psychiatric medical institute for children (PMIC) at the time of the termination hearing...

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