Child who died in hot car may have been beaten

Foster mom held on negligent homicide charge
2011-08-23T10:51:00Z 2012-12-06T17:06:06Z Child who died in hot car may have been beatenBy LORNA THACKERAY Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
August 23, 2011 10:51 am  • 

A 3-year-old child who died while locked in a car in Hardin on a 93-degree day may have been beaten earlier that morning on the Crow Reservation.

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.

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.

The girl said the Blacksmith boy appeared to fall asleep again. She and the other child went into the clinic with Bird, but Bird left Blacksmith inside the Envoy wrapped in a blanket. When Bird and the girls got back into the car, Blacksmith appeared to be still asleep.

They drove to Hardin, but the victim was not removed from the vehicle, she said. When the girl looked in the car about 2:30 p.m., she said she saw the boy flailing about.

At 6 p.m., the Big Horn County Sheriff's Office received a 911 call about a child in distress. Court documents filed in Hardin said that while Bird claimed the windows had been rolled down, the investigation showed that while the child was inside, the windows were up.

"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, but unable to do so," the document said.

The return on the search warrant showed agents seized several items of clothing, a blanket, pieces of carpeting and a spare-tire/tool compartment door.

Investigation into the boy's death is being conducted jointly by the FBI, BIA and Big Horn County Sheriff's Office. An arraignment date has not been set in state District Court in Hardin.

Eric Barnhart, supervisory senior resident agent for the FBI in Billings, said that investigation is ongoing and prosecutors from the jurisdictions involved will make the decision on whether the case proceeds in state or federal court.

Blacksmith, who turned 3 on Aug. 10, was the son of Latsha Little Light and Dwayne Blacksmith. He was buried Monday in Lodge Grass.

Lorna Thackeray can be reached at 657-1314 or lthackeray@billingsgazette.com

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