The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A mother played a game of chicken with her kids. She killed her 3-year-old son, police say.

Lexus Stagg, 26. (Credit: Houston Police Department) (Houston Police Department)

The three children chasing their mother’s SUV as it reversed through the pool parking lot weren’t running to tell her they loved her or that she had forgotten something, police say. In reality, the children were allegedly playing a deadly game of chicken against their 26-year-old mother and her 2006 Lincoln Navigator.

As the first kid stopped short of her front bumper on June 11, Lexus Stagg threw the Navigator into drive and accelerated toward her children, surveillance video shows. Seconds later, she plowed into her 3-year-old son, Lord Renfro, with the right side of the car and then ran him over with a rear tire. Lord was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital in Houston.

She initially called his death "an unfortunate accident.” But police say it’s clear that Lord’s death was the result of a mother’s game gone terribly wrong.

On Friday, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office announced that it had charged Stagg with criminally negligent homicide. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in prison.

“Every parent has an obligation to protect their children, even from themselves,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement. “Cars aren’t toys and playing chicken with your kids isn’t a game.”

Prosecutors said Stagg originally told authorities that Lord ran behind her car when she was backing out and that she thought she’d hit a speed bump. But when the district attorney’s office obtained surveillance footage from the apartment complex the day after the incident, the tape showed a darker story.

The surveillance video made it clear that Stagg drove in reverse for at least 100 feet about 7 p.m. on June 11, Sean Teare, chief of the Harris County District Attorney Office’s vehicular crimes division, told KTRK. Minutes prior, she had been watching her children playing in the parking lot of the Grand at Westchase Apartments, located on the west side of Houston, KPRC reported. Once the children started to run toward her, Teare said Stagg stopped and put the car into drive.

“The two older children were able to get out of the way, and tragically, the younger child was not and was run over by two of her tires,” Teare said to KTRK. He added to KHOU: “I have never seen someone deliberately play with young children with a car.”

“You should be playing Peek-A-Boo with a 3-year-old instead of forcing him to try and dodge a 5,600-pound deadly weapon,” Teare added in a statement.

Child Protective Services confirmed that two of Stagg’s older children were removed from her custody in 2013 and placed to live with a relative. The two children who survived the game of chicken earlier this month are now living with other family members. Teare said that Stagg will not have any contact with her children until the case has concluded.

“She is proven, in my mind, that she is not fit to supervise those kids currently,” he said to KTRK.

Stagg’s behavior was not surprising to Walter Turcios, a neighbor who witnessed the tragedy. He told KTRK that the children were often playing without any adult supervision.

“I felt bad, because those parents, they were never there, they were kind of negligent,” Turcios said.

In the courtroom on Friday morning, Stagg cried as a court official read the police report of the case, which notes one witness saying that Stagg appeared to be “playing with the children” as she placed the car in reverse. In the hearing, officials noted that Stagg was coordinating Lord’s funeral, which was held Saturday in Houston.

Although prosecutors requested she be held on $50,000 bond, a magistrate judge set it at $1,500. She posted bond later on Friday, and ran away from reporters when exiting the building. She is due back in court on Monday, KHOU reported. It was unclear whether Stagg has an attorney.

Teare, the prosecutor, said he was baffled by the case.

“Obviously, that little boy was not able to comprehend that his mom is driving a giant truck at him,” Teare told KHOU, “and so he didn’t get out of the way.”

More from Morning Mix:

‘This is a nightmare’: A woman fell asleep mid-flight and woke up trapped in a dark plane alone

‘We don’t trust you!’: After fatal police shooting, black residents confront Buttigieg

Three children, one woman found dead in Texas near Rio Grande border