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 [2011] death of Jaren Wayne Blacksmith. Bond is set at $100,000.

But an application for a search warrant filed by the FBI said agents wanted to search a 2006 gray GMC Envoy for possible evidence of federal crimes, including assault resulting in serious bodily injury and murder.
According to an affidavit filed with the request for a search warrant, Bird assaulted the toddler while the vehicle was parked outside Indian Health Service (IHS) in Crow Agency.
Major crimes against Indians on Indian reservations are usually handled by the FBI.
While the cause of death was determined to be prolonged heat exposure, an autopsy showed fresh bruising to the scalp, forehead, right cheek, mid-shoulder and upper back.
The affidavit said Bird, who lives in Hardin, told investigators that she had traveled to the IHS dental clinic in the late morning with the boy and two other children, but was not able to get a walk-in appointment.
Bird said she put the children in back in her Envoy and drove back to Hardin. Blacksmith fell asleep on the way home. When she arrived in Hardin in the early afternoon, she left him to sleep with the windows of the vehicle rolled down, she said. About 6 p.m., she went to check on the child and found him dead, she said.
But one of the other children who was in the vehicle told investigators that the Blacksmith boy awoke when they arrived at the IHS clinic that morning and that Bird became upset with him. She said Bird assaulted the boy, slamming his head on the floor board and against a car window.”

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.

Bird is accused of leaving the boy locked in the car once she got back.”

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.

Lavonna Bird, 50, appeared before Judge Blair Jones more than three weeks after the Aug. 17 death of Jaren Wayne Blacksmith, one of three foster children in Bird’s care.
Bird pleaded not guilty to the charge, and Jones maintained bond at $100,000 after rejecting a request form Bird’s attorney for a lesser amount.
Bozeman attorney John Hud represented Bird at the arraignment and told the judge that Bird has no prior criminal record. Bird is not a flight risk, Hud said, and she is charged with a crime of negligence, not a deliberate act. Hud asked the judge to set bond at $25,000 or $50,000.
Hud also suggested that conditions such as GPS monitoring and a curfew could be imposed to ensure Bird’s compliance with pre-trial release conditions.
Jones said he was concerned that Bird could flee to the Crow Reservation beyond state jurisdiction before her case can be resolved.
The judge suggested that he would consider reducing Bird’s bond later if she signs a waiver of extradition, which would allow authorities to return her to state jurisdiction from the reservation.
The judge also ordered that Bird have no contact with children outside the presence of another adult while her case is pending. Hud told Jones that Bird had three foster children in her care at the time of the boy’s death. She also has several grandchildren, the attorney said.
Bird and her husband, who is listed as a witness in the criminal case, also ran a day care for many years, Hud told the judge.
A trial date will be set later. At the conclusion of the court hearing Thursday, Bird was returned to the Big Horn County jail where she has been held in solitary confinement since her arrest.”

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.

The Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office responded to a 911 call from the residence at about 6 p.m. Blacksmith was pronounced dead about an hour later.
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, according to charging documents filed by Chief Deputy County Attorney David Sibley.
“The timelines of when she had left the child in the vehicle changed multiple times, but each time (Bird) admitted that she had left the child in the vehicle,” court records state.
Bird also told investigators that she left the windows of the vehicle down, but Sibley alleges in court records that the investigation determined that the windows were up when the child was in the vehicle.
“Evidence was found in the back of the vehicle which indicated that there was likely someone in the back of the vehicle, attempting to escape and unable to do so,” Sibley said in court records.
Child locks on the vehicle doors were engaged, Sibley said.”

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.

The child said Jaren appeared to go back to sleep, and he was left in the vehicle wrapped in blanket outside the clinic.
When they returned to Hardin, Jaren was again left in the vehicle, the child said. The child said she went to check on Blacksmith at about 2:30 p.m. and saw him flailing in the vehicle.
It was unclear Thursday if federal authorities, who have jurisdiction in major crimes against Indians on reservations, intend to file charges in the case.
A senior FBI agent in Billings said recently that the investigation was ongoing and that federal and state prosecutors would decide whether the case would proceed in state or federal court.”

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.”
[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]

Hardin woman denies charge in death of child
[The Billings Gazette 9/8/11 by Greg Tuttle]
[KULR8 11/1/11 by Chelsea Rabideau]

REFORM Puzzle Piece

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.[2012]

“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.”

Trial in death of Hardin child delayed

[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. ”


Woman admits causing death of 3-year-old foster child

[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.”

Woman gets 20 years for death of 3-year-old foster child

[Independent Record 2/8/13 by Greg Tuttles/Billings Gazette]