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Charges: Baby suffered traumatic brain injury in mom's drunken crash

The 40-year-old's license was revoked for DWI in 2004.
Phethile Kunene

A Richfield woman is facing more than a decade behind bars over a crash that left her infant daughter seriously wounded this past winter.

Ramsey County prosecutors say Phethile Kunene, 40, was drunk when her Nissan Sentra crashed into a tree along northbound Interstate 35E near Arden Hills on January 19.

According to the criminal complaint, a witness reported seeing a "loose/unrestrained" baby in the backseat of Kunene's car shortly before the crash.

The complaint also says the car was seen swerving between lanes, and that it rear-ended another vehicle before veering into a ditch.

First responders found Kunene's child — at the time seven months old and identified only as "MZH" — on the floor of the car with a large forehead laceration that was bleeding "profusely."

Mother and daughter were taken to Hennepin County Medical Center, where the baby was diagnosed "as having a 4 to 6 cm large laceration on her right frontal scalp, a non-displaced skull fracture in the same area, and Traumatic Brain Injury."

"MZH suffered at least substantial bodily harm," the criminal complaint adds.

Kunene, meanwhile, "apparently broke a bone in one of her ankles."

Blood tests found Kunene had a blood-alcohol level of 0.178, which is more than twice the legal limit for driving a vehicle in Minnesota.

Kunene also had a bottle of prescription Seroquil in the car, even though the prescription was not hers, prosecutors say. Seroquil is used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression

State Patrol records indicate her license was revoked in 2004 for drunk driving, which the charges describe as a "prior aggravating factor" in the case.

Charges in the January 2019 incident were filed last week.

The baby was discharged from the hospital after a few days, but there's no word on her current status. 

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