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Kelsey Carter’s Last Day

Investigative documents piece together the night that the 16-year-old was fatally shot.

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part story. .

James Radtke was in the middle of a divorce when he met Kelsey Carter in the summer of 2010.

Kelsey, who at 16 was eight years his junior, was hired to baby-sit Radtke’s two young children.

When Kelsey’s mother, Christy Doll, discovered Radtke’s age, she forbade her daughter to baby-sit any more and thought it was a closed matter.

But in October, Kelsey ran away from home and stayed with Radtke. Within two months, she would be dead.

Kelsey’s last day

According to King County Sheriff’s Office transcripts, Radtke told police that he and Kelsey had been staying at different places since he had been laid off from his machinist's job in September. He was later evicted from his Enumclaw home, and both he and Kelsey stayed at his parents' home in Kent.

Patch could not reach Radtke nor his attorney, who did not return  messages.

On Dec. 11, 2010, the pair were visiting at the home of Radtke’s friend Josh Wilson on Southeast Greenriver Headworks Road. Kelsey’s mother had tracked her daughter there and called sheriff’s deputies.

When deputies knocked on the door around 6 p.m., Kelsey went and hid in a back room, Radtke later told investigators.

“When she saw 'em come up, she got up and walked around to the back room. We are all kinda surprised they didn't see her,” he said, according to one report.

Radtke said after the deputies left, they decided to leave Wilson's house in order to avoid causing him trouble. They were planning to walk along the railroad tracks in the Cumberland area, and for protection from possible bears and cougars in the rural area, Radtke said he decided to take his gun, a .41-caliber Ruger revolver, which he'd put in an old Western-style holster.

Wilson said he'd been storing the gun for him in his safe. Radtke told investigators his grandfather had turned that gun into a “hair trigger,” meaning it would be easy to fire after it was cocked.

While they prepared to leave, Radtke said, he was sitting on the floor of the basement when Kelsey came to sit on his lap. She was holding her chihuahua, Mathias, inside her jacket.

His gun on one side and a headlamp in his opposite back pocket were poking him, Radtke said, and when he tried to adjust the gun, it went off.

He heard a loud bang and thought a bullet struck the floor.

But when he looked at Kelsey, she said in a meek voice, “I've been shot.”

"Panicked" and "freaked out"

Radke lifted her shirt and saw bullet holes. Her dog had also been shot.

“Her dog was screaming, and she didn’t look right. I saw the wound, and I just started screaming, and I tried to pick her up, and I had no strength,” Radtke told investigators.

He said he ran upstairs to get Donald Thompson, who told investigators that he was at Wilson's house to watch TV and drink a couple of beers.

They picked up Kelsey, carried her to a truck and raced to Enumclaw Regional Hospital, 10 miles away.

“I was just completely flustered because the truck he was driving only topped out at 90 (mph), and we weren’t getting there quick enough,” Radtke said.

Thompson told investigators they drove to the hospital instead of calling 9-1-1 because they all “panicked” and “freaked out.”

On the way to the hospital, Radtke said, he heard gurgling, sighing and moaning from Kelsey, but nothing else. At one point he said he felt a faint heartbeat so he tried mouth-to-mouth resuscitation but stopped because he didn’t want to do more harm than good.

They got to the hospital at 8:03 p.m.

Kelsey was pronounced dead 23 minutes later.

Gun in question

According to a report filed by King County Sheriff’s Detective John Pavlovich, Radtke was sitting in the basement bathroom when the shooting occurred. Kelsey's autopsy showed the bullet went through her left elbow, above her hip and exited below the right shoulder blade.

There was no sign of a struggle between Kelsey or Radtke, though she did have some small scratches consistent with coming from an animal like her dog, which died in the incident.

Pavlovich's report said that Radtke's gun did have a light trigger, taking only a quarter-pound of pressure instead of the normal three pounds. However, on March 18, a State Patrol firearms expert tested the gun and found that it would not fire unless it was fully cocked and the trigger fully depressed.

“It would not discharge unless physically manipulated by Radtke,” the report said.

Kelsey's autopsy also showed she had .55 mg/L of benzoylecgonine in her system, a product created as the body metabolizes cocaine. Radtke similarly had .33 mg/L in his system – what the autopsy report indicated was “middle of the road.”

Radtke later admitted he and Kelsey had smoked marijuana the previous night and that he had snorted a line of cocaine.

"What-ifs"

Radtke, who was charged in July with first-degree manslaughter, remains free on $100,000 bail. A case-setting hearing is set for Jan. 5.

All Kelsey’s mother can do is wait, running the same events leading up to her daughter's death over and over again in her head, and second-guessing how the outcome might have been different if she'd acted differently that night.

“I wish I would have just called the cops when I was heading up there [to Wilson's house] so that they could have sat with me and saw her, instead of me sitting there and then calling the cops,” Doll said.

Since Kelsey ran away, “I did everything legally. There's a lot of what-ifs and could-haves … Then again, if I wasn't here, would he [Radtke] have even had the gun strapped to him?”

Compounding Doll's grief is the public commentary on what was reported about Kelsey's life and the speculation on why she ran away.

“They say I'm a bad mom," she said. "I know when trial starts, that's what it'll go to.”

Radtke told investigators that Kelsey ran away in part because she felt her mom was being insensitive as the anniversary of her father's death approached. Kelsey's father was murdered in Utah in 2001, Doll said, on a hunting trip that involved a father and son who had planned on blowing up a dam.

Radtke added that early in their relationship, he had cooked a meal for Kelsey, and she reportedly told him it was the first home-cooked meal she'd had in nine years.

“I'm a single mom and I've taken care of my kids,” Doll said. “I've done it all on my own.  Choosing bartending as a job probably isn't the best career, no, but I had Kelsey right after high school … I was working at 16.

"It's so amazing how I see all these stories coming up – people asking where was the dad.”

Waiting for closure

While public opinion has generally questioned the age gap between Kelsey and Radtke, his friend Wilson told investigators that he believes he didn't mean to shoot Kelsey.

“It is an accident. They loved each other,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kelsey’s gravesite continues to sit bare, by Doll’s choice.

Radtke apparently tried to change that in August. According to Doll, he dug a hole in the middle of the night and planted his own headstone.

“He comes and defaces it,” she said of the $1,500 in damage.

As a result, she successfully had him restrained from Kelsey's site–he now must stay at least 100 feet away. (.)

“I'm not putting up a headstone until he goes to jail," Doll said. "It's been pretty tough. You can't get that final closure without that headstone, knowing that for him being responsible and nothing's been done yet.”

Doll's tone softens when she reflects on Radtke's family, and his two children.

“It's not fair for his children to not have a father during Christmas, not have a father for however long he goes to prison. But it is fair for someone to be held accountable for what they did wrong … I do care about his family. They had nothing to do with it.

"But in the long run, I believe he needs to go serve his sentence.”

BriarPatch December 29, 2011 at 06:59 PM
Very sad story, but well done, journalistically. Good job piecing together the investigative reports to show the fullest version to date of this story. Keep up the good work tracking this important local story.
Michelle Vanwinkle January 21, 2012 at 03:14 AM
Her dog's name was Neveah, if you're going to report a story, do it right. She was my best friend.
April Chan January 21, 2012 at 05:26 AM
I appreciate your comment, Michelle, and can't imagine what you've been through having lost your best friend.
Courtney Rodrigues February 05, 2012 at 05:29 AM
Dogs name was ( Nevaeh ) Heaven slept backwards ..

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