LINCOLN — A violent automobile accident could have caused the brain injury that killed a 1-year-old boy flown to Children's Hospital & Medical Center two weeks ago.
But Angel Giron of Schuyler, Neb., wasn't in a crash. Instead, he was home with his mother's boyfriend while she ran an errand.
Now the boyfriend, Ricardo Rocha, 30, waits in jail on $1 million bail as he faces a felony child abuse charge that could put him away for 20 years to life. Authorities with Immigration and Customs Enforcement also have put a hold on Rocha, which means he is not a United States citizen.
Meanwhile, the six other children in the home — all under the age of 9 — have been placed in state custody while officials investigate whether they have been abused or neglected.
The case unfolded after police responded to a call for an unresponsive child early the evening of July 29 at a Schuyler apartment building. Officers tried to resuscitate the boy, who was flown by helicopter to Children's Hospital in Omaha, according to a court affidavit prepared by Nebraska State Patrol Investigator Anthony Sattlefield.
Rocha and the boy's mother, Elizabeth Najar, told doctors that the child fell from bed and hit his head in mid-July. They said he was examined by a pediatrician the next day, but the boy never showed ill effects from the fall.
The mother told authorities the boy woke up crying a couple of times the night of July 28, and she suspected he was teething. She gave him pain reliever and he seemed happy and normal when she left the apartment at 5:30 p.m. to buy groceries, she said.
Schuyler Police Chief Lenny Hiltner and the patrol investigator also interviewed Rocha, who denied he had anything to do with the boy's injuries. Rocha told them he saw the child suffer a seizure before becoming unresponsive, so he took the child to a neighbor's apartment, where 911 was called.
Two doctors told investigators the couple's story was inconsistent with the boy's injuries.
Doctors found a skull fracture that could have occurred two weeks before, but the fracture was unrelated to the massive bleeding present in the child's brain and one eye. They said the injuries could have only two causes: an ejection during a car crash or intentional, violent shaking of the child.
“(Rocha) was confronted several times and asked to assist in providing explanations, but he appeared uninterested and/or unwilling to provide an explanation,” the investigator wrote in the court document.
Rocha is scheduled to appear Tuesday for a preliminary hearing in Colfax County Court in Schuyler. He is represented by Colfax County Public Defender Bryan Meismer.
The child died the morning of Aug. 1 at the Omaha hospital, said Colfax County Attorney Denise Kracl. A funeral and burial were held in Sioux City, Iowa, where the child's grandmother lives, the prosecutor added.
The boy's mother has not been arrested or charged in the investigation. It's too early to say whether the other children will be returned to her, Kracl said.
Najar, 31, served 14 days in jail and one year of probation for misdemeanor child abuse in 2005, while she lived in South Sioux City, Neb. A second child abuse charge in that case was dropped.
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