Manslaughter charge in girl's death at Fort Lewis
By CASEY MCNERTHNEY
A Fort Lewis soldier was charged Tuesday with involuntary manslaughter of a 16-year-old girl found dead last month in Army barracks.
Leah King, a student at Lakes High School in Lakewood, and a friend were both unresponsive when found Feb. 15 at Fort Lewis. King was pronounced dead in the barracks; the other girl recovered.
After an autopsy, the Army discovered that King apparently died after taking Xanax, a drug prescribed to treat panic disorder, and Oxymorphone, a prescription pain reliever, that were crushed into powder and inhaled.
The soldier, Pvt. Timothy E. Bennitt, is also being charged with wrongful use and distribution of controlled substances and conspiracy to use controlled substances. The 19-year-old is also suspected of dealing drugs at or near Fort Lewis last fall and earlier this year.
If convicted of the charges in a military court, he could face a sentence of up to 82 years in prison.
Bennitt is a native of rolling Prairie, Ind., and a heavy-construction equipment operator assigned to the 864th Engineer Battalion, 555th Engineer Brigade, on Fort Lewis. He entered the military in June 2007 and went to Fort Lewis in December that year after receiving initial entry training and advanced individual training at Fort Sill, Okla., and Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
Since King's death, Fort Lewis has made changes to its installation access procedures. Modifications include a requirement for minors to be signed in at the Fort Lewis Visitor's Center, base spokesman Joe Kubistek said.
The staff at the Visitors Center will screen minors and sponsors. The base also has increased random checks of vehicles to keep minors out and is increasing checks of barracks.