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Amid custody dispute, Emmett mom’s account of son’s death goes viral

Titus Harder.
Titus Harder.

Idaho State Police have not completed their investigation into the June 2 crash that killed 4-year-old Titus Harder.

The boy was ejected when the minivan he was riding in with his mother and four siblings — from 18 months to 9 years old — veered off of Idaho Highway 55 about 3 1/2 miles north of Horseshoe Bend.

The 2009 Ford Econoline, which was headed north, went off the road on a curve. It went down an embankment, struck a rock wall and overturned onto the driver’s side, according to the crash report filed with the Idaho Transportation Department. Titus was pronounced dead at the scene.

A Facebook post by 31-year-old driver Ashley Grimm a month and a half after the crash drew worldwide attention — first sympathy for the grieving mother who was criticized by online commenters, then scorn from those who began to doubt the Emmett woman’s account following questions raised by her ex-husband’s family.

Grimm is one half of a contentious custody dispute, and she’s facing criminal charges for allegedly failing to deliver her children to court-ordered visits with their father. Ex-husband Sean Harder, now living in Boise, has pleaded down charges related to violating a protection order and was accused of sexual abuse against the children that the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare couldn’t substantiate. A Gem County judge has appointed an attorney to represent Grimm and Harder’s three surviving children.

Now as Grimm seeks full custody, citing the alleged abuse, the crash that killed Titus has been swept into the mix.

‘EVERY MOTHER’S WORST FEAR’

The crash occurred at about 8:30 p.m. on a clear, dry day. The ITD crash report doesn’t note any contributing problems with the road surface — slick asphalt, gravel or rocks.

But in the Facebook post that went viral, Grimm said she swerved to try to straddle a large rock that rolled into her lane.

“The rock hit my axle and sent us plummeting into the side of a cliff,” she wrote.

Grimm’s heartbreaking account of losing her son was shared more than 428,000 times on Facebook. A GoFundMe page set up for her family raised more than $7,500, and ABC News, the Today Show’s parenting website and Us Weekly published interviews with her.

Grimm wrote that Titus was not belted in at the time of the crash because he had unbuckled to switch seats with his brother. She said he frequently unbuckled himself while riding in the car.

“Take every hug and kiss they bring you — even the twenty-fifth one they use just to get out of bed at night,” she wrote in a section with advice to other mothers.

Never judge another mama. We don’t know the whole story, we don’t know.

Ashley Grimm in her Facebook post that went viral

ISP spokeswoman Teresa Baker said a crash reconstructionist is working on the case, and she could not discuss any findings. The Boise County prosecutor will review the ISP report to determine if any criminal charges are warranted.

In an email Wednesday night, Grimm referred questions on the crash to her attorney, Tessa Bennett, writing that she’d been called out of state for a family emergency.

Bennett said Thursday she has not read the ITD crash report and could not comment on it.

EX-HUSBAND RAISES QUESTIONS

Grimm’s ex-husband Sean Harder and his brother, Daniel Harder, both say they don’t believe her account of the crash that killed Titus.

“She’s trying to place blame on her son for something that she caused,” Sean Harder told the Statesman. He refuted her description of Titus as a child who frequently tried to get out of his seatbelt.

“To hear the nation say what a great mother she was ... This whole ‘he unbuckled all the time’ thing was not true from my experience. We buckled him, and he stayed buckled,” Sean Harder said. “To be getting positive attention from this awful thing she perpetrated; I’m angry and disappointed at how she’s spinning the facts.”

Ashley Grimm filed for divorce in 2013, after about eight years of marriage. Grimm and Harder have joint legal and physical custody, according to the divorce decree.

CUSTODY DISPUTES & CHARGES

That divorce forms the backdrop of the tragic June crash.

Sean Harder said his ex-wife’s allegations that he abused his kids are false, and provided a passage in a redacted Health and Welfare report stating the children are safe.

Someone is mistaken or someone is lying.

Tessa Bennett, Ashley Grimm’s attorney, about alleged abuse

Harder has three convictions related to the case, including providing a false name to law enforcement. Twice, he pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace after being charged with violating a protection order and intimidating a witness. (He says he texted Grimm about one of the children, then spoke to her about resolving the protection order violation outside of court.) He’s still under an order requiring another adult to be present when he’s around the children.

More recently, Harder says Grimm has twice denied him court-ordered visitations — before and after Titus’s death. One of the resulting charges is a felony, for which Grimm was arraigned on Tuesday.

That case involved a mid-July trip to Disneyland, rescheduled after Titus’ death and planned and paid for months in advance. Bennett said Harder was notified about it and that the divorce decree entitles Grimm to a 12-day vacation with her children.

“He’s claiming he was never told she was going and didn’t know where or when,” Bennett said. “We have text messages of communication about the vacation and call logs. He knew all of these things.”

Grimm’s next court date is 1:30 p.m. Aug. 9.

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller

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