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Mother files wrongful death lawsuit

9-year-old’s family sues Pathways and teen killer

Elizabeth Olten’s mother has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Cole County, three years after the 9-year-old girl was murdered near her home on Lomo Drive, south of U.S. 50 in St. Martins.

Defendants in the suit are:

• Alyssa Daileen Bustamante, now 18, who pleaded guilty Jan. 10 to second-degree murder in the case and now is serving a life sentence, plus 30 years for armed criminal action, at the state’s Women’s Eastern Reception and Diagnostic Center, Vandalia.

She was 15 on Oct. 21, 2009, when she strangled and stabbed Olten, a neighbor and friend of Bustamante’s younger sister.

• Pathways Behavioral Healthcare and two of its employees.

Mel Fetter, president and CEO of Compass Health, Pathways’ parent company, said in a Friday afternoon e-mail: “We are aware of the suit but, obviously, cannot comment on pending litigation.”

The case was assigned to Cole County Presiding Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce. No hearings had been scheduled by Friday afternoon.

In the lawsuit, Patricia Preiss said her daughter “died related to certain actions or omissions of Bustamante and the other defendants.”

Noting that Bustamante “was under care and treatment of Pathways” and its employees, the nine-page lawsuit argues: “Bustamante’s violent propensities were well-documented from a young age, including but not limited to a declaration on her ‘Myspace’ page that her hobbies were ‘cutting; killing people,’ a video wherein Bustamante electrocutes her younger brothers, a picture of Bustamante holding a knife to another girl’s throat, and other evidence ...”

Preiss said Pathways’ employees “were aware of the same violent propensities of Bustamante, as well as the specific, identifiable threats to harm Olten (but), despite actual knowledge of the threat Bustamante posed to Olten, none of these defendants took actions to detain Bustamante, none took action to result in her detention, none warned Olten or Preiss of the specific threat on Olten, nor did they take any action that might have prevented Bustamante from harming Olten.”

During Bustamante’s two-day sentencing hearing last February, both Cole County prosecutors and the teen’s public defenders gave Joyce evidence that Bustamante cut herself a number of times, and was hospitalized at the Mid-Missouri Mental Health Center in Columbia after a 2007 suicide attempt.

She became a Pathways client after she was released from the hospital.

Preiss’ attorneys — Matthew Diehr and Bruce Bartlett, both from St. Louis County — broke their case into five counts.

The first two are aimed at Bustamante, saying the teen “inflicted Olten’s death in a cruel manner (and) caused untold damage to Olten, to Preiss, and to Preiss’ family in the form of the loss of Olten.”

Count 3 said Pathways “had a legal duty to exercise due care in preventing foreseeable harm to Olten as an identified potential victim of Bustamante.”

Preiss said the mental health agency showed a “negligent failure to warn Preiss and her family” because it “was not only aware of Bustamante’s violent tendencies, but ... also had a credible threat against the readily identifiable Olten, but failed to exercise appropriate due care to prevent harm to Olten.”

Counts 4 and 5 made the same claims against Dr. Niger Sultana, a Pathways psychiatrist, and Ron Wilson, a Pathways counselor who worked with Bustamante.

Wilson testified during Bustamante’s sentencing hearing that the teen had not indicated she was a threat to anyone but herself.

The lawsuit doesn’t seek specific monetary damages.

Instead, all five counts ask the court to award and set “fair and just expenses associated with Olten’s death, including ... pecuniary losses ... funeral expenses; (the) reasonable value of Olten’s (future) consortium, companionship, and support; damages for Olten’s pain and suffering; and punitive damages ...”

The lawsuit was filed Oct. 18 — the same day the St. Louis County circuit court was notified the judgment was satisfied in Preiss’ separate wrongful death lawsuit, filed Sept. 6 against Karen and Gary Brooke, who are Bustamante’s grandparents and were her legal guardians at the time of the Olten murder, and against the teen’s younger siblings.

St. Louis County Circuit Judge Gloria C. Reno ordered a $400,000 judgment in that case, after an Oct. 3 hearing.

No other details of that case were available Friday, and attorneys for both sides did not answer a request for comment about the case.

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