How Could You? Hall of Shame-Jaren Wayne Blacksmith case-Child Death UPDATED
This will be an archive of heinous actions by those involved in child welfare, foster care and adoption. We forewarn you that these are deeply disturbing stories that may involve sex abuse, murder, kidnapping and other horrendous actions.
From Billings, Montana, this 2011 case just came to our attention. Three-year-old Jaren Wayne Blacksmith’s body was found on August 17, 2011 in a hot car outside of location said to be a daycare. KULR states that it was the Little Praise Day Care Center. Outside temperatures reached 93 degrees that day. Jaren was a member of the Crow tribe.
The Billings Gazette says, “Lavonna Bird, 50, the child’s foster mother, is being held in the Big Horn County Detention Center in Hardin on a state complaint charging her with negligent homicide in the Aug. 17  death of Jaren Wayne Blacksmith. Bond is set at $100,000.
Ravalli Republic adds that ” One of the children told investigators she became upset with the boy and slammed his head on the floor of the car and against one of its windows before driving back to Hardin.
The Billings Gazette/Sep 8 says ” A woman charged with negligent homicide for the death of a 3-year-old boy found locked in a hot car was arraigned Thursday [September 8, 2011]in Big Horn County District Court.
“Prosecutors allege in court records that Jaren died from hyperthermia — or elevated body temperature — after being locked in a car at Bird’s residence for several hours on a day where the outside temperature reached 93 degrees.
“Another child told authorities that Jaren was sleeping in the vehicle on the way to the clinic and awoke when they arrived. Bird became upset with him, the child witness said, and she assaulted the boy by slamming his head on the floor board and against a car window.
KULR says ” A trial date has been set for Lavonna Bird.
She’s charged in the death of 3-year-old Jaren Blacksmith in Hardin. If all goes as scheduled, Bird’s trial will start April 23rd, 2012.”
INVESTIGATION INTO BOY FOUND DEAD IN CAR
[KULR8 8/19/11 by Nicole Grigg]
Child who died in hot car may have been beaten [The Billings Gazette 8/23/11 by Lorna Thackeray]
Hardin: Boy who died in hot car may have been beaten by foster mom
[Ravalli Republic 8/23/11 by Associated Press]
Update: “The negligent-homicide trial of a Hardin woman accused of causing the death of a 3-year-old foster child found locked in a hot car has been postponed.
The trial of Lavonna Bird was scheduled to begin Monday [July 23, 2012] in Big Horn County District Court, but court officials said Judge Blair Jones recently reset the trial to Dec. 10.
“Jones also recently granted a defense motion to suppress a statement Bird gave to law enforcement the day after the child’s death because officers did not advise her of her rights.
Bird, 50, is charged with causing the death last Aug. 17 of Jaren Wayne Blacksmith, one of three foster children in her care at the time.
According to court records, Bird called 911 from her home on South Second Street at about 6:30 p.m. to report that the child was not breathing. The child was later pronounced dead and authorities said he died of hyperthermia, or elevated body temperature.
Prosecutors say Bird left the child locked in the car parked at her residence for several hours on a day when the outside temperature reached 93 degrees.
An autopsy showed the boy also had suffered fresh bruising to his scalp, forehead, right cheek, shoulder and back, according to court records.
Bird pleaded not guilty to the negligent-homicide charge in September and has remained in custody at the Big Horn County jail.
Bird was initially represented by Bozeman attorney John Hud. She is now represented by Jennifer Streano, a public defender in the major-crimes unit of the defenders office.
David Sibley, the county’s chief deputy county attorney, is prosecuting the case.
Last month, Jones granted a defense motion to suppress statements given by Bird at the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office the day after the child’s death. Jones denied a similar defense effort to suppress statements Bird gave to Undersheriff Michael Fuss at her house shortly after the child was found dead.
According to an order issued by Jones, Fuss went to Bird’s residence on Aug. 18 and told her she needed to come to the Sheriff’s Office to give a statement.
“Fuss did not advise Bird that she could refuse to be interviewed or that she could have an attorney present,” Jones said in court records.
When Bird arrived, she was met at the office by Fuss and two special agents with the FBI, Steven Chambers and Justin Telford. Chambers conducted the interview, and told Bird the FBI was involved because the county was understaffed.
“In fact, the FBI was conducting its own homicide investigation due to the undetermined issue of jurisdiction,” Jones said.
Chambers told Bird she was not under arrest, could leave at any time, and the officers just wanted to clear up some inconsistencies. The agent did not remind Bird during the interview that she could leave at any time, and he did not tell the woman she was a suspect in a homicide investigation, Jones said in court records.
None of the officers advised Bird of her right to remain silent or to have an attorney present, commonly known as Miranda rights.
Jones said that the statement she gave at that interview must be suppressed because it was a “custodial interrogation” and Bird was not advised of her rights.
Jones said Bird would not have felt free to end the interview or leave; the interview was at the Sheriff’s Office and requested by law enforcement; and the “manner and context” of the questions she was asked “were likely to elicit an incriminating response.”
“At the time of the interrogation, all three officers were aware of the autopsy results that the child died as a result of heat exposure, and they knew that Bird was the last known adult with the child prior to his death,” Jones said.
Bird was arrested the next day and invoked her right to remain silent.”
[Billings Gazette 7/25/12 by Greg Tuttle]
Update 2: “A Hardin woman admitted Thursday that she caused the death of a 3-year-old foster child who was locked in a hot car.
Lavonna Bird, 50, appeared before Judge Blair Jones and pleaded guilty to negligent homicide for the death of Jaren Wayne Blacksmith, one of three foster children in her care at the time, on Aug. 17, 2011.
Bird’s trial in the case had been set to begin Monday in Big Horn County District Court. Bird changed her plea Thursday during a 20-minute hearing held in a Columbus courtroom where Jones has his main office.
Bird remains free on a posted $40,000 bond. Jones set a tentative sentencing date of Jan. 23.
Chief Deputy Big Horn County Attorney David Sibley said a plea agreement states that prosecutors will recommend a sentence of 20 years in custody, with five years suspended. Bird’s defense attorney will be free to recommend a lesser sentence.
During the hearing Thursday, Bird showed little emotion as she told the judge the facts in the case that caused her to plead guilty. Bird said she “negligently caused the death of a child by leaving him in a car for a long period of time while he was sleeping.”
In court records, prosecutors said an autopsy determined that the Blacksmith boy died of hyperthermia, or elevated body temperature.
The boy was found in a car parked outside Bird’s house in Hardin after she called 911 at about 6:30 p.m. to report that the child was not breathing.
Prosecutors said Bird left the boy in the locked car for several hours on a day when the outside temperature reached 93 degrees.
Bird initially told authorities that she left the boy in the back of the car because he was sleeping and he was a fussy child when he woke up. But Sibley said in charging documents that Bird gave different accounts of how long the boy was left alone in the car.
She also told investigators that she left the windows of the vehicle down, but the prosecutor said investigators determined that the windows were up when the child was in the vehicle.
There was also evidence in the vehicle that the boy had tried unsuccessfully to escape.
Autopsy results also showed that the boy may have suffered other injuries before his death, including bruising to his scalp and forehead. ”
[Billings Gazette 12/6/12 by Greg Tuttle]
Update 3: On February 8, 2013, Lavonna Bird was sentenced to 20 years in prison “ at Montana Women’s Prison, with five years suspended, for the Aug. 17, 2011, death of Jaren Wayne Blacksmith, who died after he was left for several hours inside a locked car.”
“The sentencing before Judge Blair Jones was held in Columbus, where Jones has his main office.
The judge rejected a request from Bird’s court-appointed attorney for a 20-year suspended sentence. He described the boy’s death as “unthinkable.”
“We all know that you don’t leave children in a car on a hot day,” the judge said. “Is there anybody that doesn’t understand that?”
Bird spoke briefly to apologized befoe she was sentenced.
“I’m really sorry for what happened to Jaren,” she said. I loved jhim very much and wanted to adopt him.”
Deputy Public Defender Jennifer Streano called Probation Officer Darren Zent to testify at the hearing. Zent made the same recommendation of 20 years in prison, with five years suspended, as Chief Deputy County Attorny David Sibley.
Zent agreed with Streano when she said Bird has no prior criminal history, but the probation officer said he noted “significant allegations of child abuse” in Bird’s past that were reviewed by state authorities but did not result in charges.
Bird previously operated a day care out of her home. She had two other foster chidlren at the time of the Blacksmith child’s death.”
[Independent Record 2/8/13 by Greg Tuttles/Billings Gazette]