The parents of a child who ran out onto Harris Road in Sumpter Township and was hit by a car have been bound over to circuit court to face charges for his death.
Larissa Lydia Gagnon, 30, and Chad Ryan Vanover, 27, are scheduled for an arraignment on the information at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice at 9 a.m., March 29.
The parents both are charged with involuntary manslaughter/homicide and child abuse in the second degree. Gagnon is free on $2,000 personal recognizance bond and Vanover is out on $20,000 PR bond.
Chief 34th District Court Judge Tina Brooks Green presided at their preliminary exam on March 15 and, after testimony, made the decision there was probable cause to send the cases to a higher court.
Before witnesses were called, defense attorney Ronald French showed a blown-up picture of the roadway in front of the house at 40900 Harris Road where 18-month-old Chad was hit by a car. There was a white fence and two green gates.
French spoke of the distance between the two entries to the roadway from the horseshoe driveway and he said there was 370’ of roadway with nothing obscuring the vision. He said there were no skid marks at all and the passenger mirror of the car was in the yard. He said the car stopped at 180’ after impact.
Judge Green said she is not hearing that kind of information for this preliminary exam and those details can be brought forth in circuit court.
Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Michael Woodyard said the issue here is manslaughter involving gross negligence. He said the child was running around and approximately 30 days prior Child Protective Services was called out with concerns.
Defense attorneys objected to testimony from CPS and Judge Green said there was contact with CPS with concerns about supervision. She said they will be talking about today’s case only.
The father’s defense attorney French said that incident was completely different, that the dad was sleeping and little Chad crawled out of his crib and went outside. French said within seven minutes the father got him.
“This is an issue for a jury to decide,” Judge Green said.
Prosecutor Woodyard said the CPS worker talked to the parents about better supervision.
First witness was Shelly Ozment, who lives across the street from Vanover’s father and grandfather where the accident occurred. Ozment said she had been painting cabinets outside in her yard at about 5 p.m. on the day of the accident, Aug. 31, 2015. The day was sunny, warm, and clear, she said.
She said she had gone inside and her son ran inside after her telling her to call 911 because baby Chad Vanover had been hit. She said her son was friends with “big Chad.” She told her son to call 911 and she ran out to see if she could help the child.
Ozment testified that Chad and the woman with whom he had children would come out to visit Chad’s father and grandfather often in the summer.
Prosecutor Woodyard asked if she had ever seen little Chad down by the road and she said a week or so earlier several people were outside and the boy ran toward the road and his father brought him back. He got loose and went back toward the road, she testified. “It was like a game.”
She testified one other time she saw little Chad at the mailbox at the edge of the road.
Ozment said she talked with Chad after his son was taken away by ambulance and he told her his son “didn’t make it.”
He thanked her for trying to help his son and she said it was almost like a little game they played and Chad agreed.
She testified she did not see the accident and she does not take drugs and doesn’t drink. She said she never saw the boy spanked and she saw him heading for the road two times and both times the parents grabbed him.
Scott Vanover, father of Chad Vanover, testified he didn’t see the accident, either. He said Chad and Larissa would visit often in the summer. On the day of the accident he was inside with his granddaughter Morgan, taking her for a visit with his father, who owns the house. He said he had taken little Chad in to see his great-grandfather and then Chad wanted to go outside. Scott said his sister-in-law wanted in and Chad went running out.
“He was playing ball and Hot Wheel cars,” Scott said of the activities, noting they were making preparations to go to the Metropark for a picnic. “Then I took Morgan in to see my dad. I was in the back room when I heard Lacey running and hollering.”
He testified a couple of days to a week prior, little Chad ran toward the road and Chad spanked him and brought him back.
Scott disagreed with a report that he told Sumpter Township Detective/Sgt. John Toth he didn’t understand why little Chad runs to the road.
“And, I didn’t say I whooped baby Chad for running toward the road” even though Det./Sgt. Toth said he did. He insisted it was his son that spanked little Chad.
Next witness was Sumpter Sgt. Elizabeth Egerer who said she was on road patrol from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. that day and was called to Harris Road for a pedestrian vs. car accident. When she got there fire fighters were already tending to the child.
She testified that she tried to identify the driver, Sharon Henley, who was upset. Sgt. Egerer said Henley was driving down the road, heard something, and stopped. There was no indication of alcohol, she said.
She testified she spoke with Chad Vanover and he was very upset. She said she asked him what happened and he said, “I told him a million times. I yelled at him not to go in the road.” She said Chad Vanover had a hard time continuing. He was crying and very hysterical.
She said she saw the mother walking down the drive. “She saw her child hit by a car. I assisted her getting into the ambulance and it left the scene,” Sgt. Egerer testified.
Under cross examination Sgt. Egerer said Michigan State Police took scene photographs and she worked jointly with MSP.
“It was a clear day. I don’t know why the driver didn’t see the child,” Sgt. Egerer said.
She said she talked to six people at the scene and learned, “The child ran from the back yard and was struck by a car. The mother said she was chasing the child. Chad said Larissa was chasing the child.”
Next witness was Iidf Sharna of the Department of Health and Human Services, formerly a Children Protective Services worker. She said on Sept. 1, 2015 she was on call to respond to the death of a child and was not the case worker. She said she asked the mother what had happened and was told she and her family were eating oranges in the back yard. She ran after her son and saw he was hit by a car.
Sharna testified when she went to their home she talked to Larissa and was told Chad was out in the car.
Next witness was Sharon Henley, who regularly returns from her job in Wayne by taking Harris Road to Haggerty south to her home in Sumpter. She said she works until 5 p.m. and it was about 5:20 p.m. when the accident occurred.
She said she was driving her 2015 Chevy Traverse on the two-lane blacktop when she heard a thud on the vehicle’s right front side. She said she wasn’t sure what had happened. She took her foot off the gas and looked in the rearview mirror and didn’t see anything.
She said she pulled over and took her phone to call 911 because she knew she would need a police report for insurance.
Then she saw a lady standing over the child and then police and fire fighters.
“I didn’t see the child and don’t know where it came from,” Henley said. She said she took her cellphone in to police and they checked it. They impounded and towed her car to check it out.
When asked in cross examination why she didn’t see the child, she replied, “I’ve asked myself that many times.”
When she was asked why it took 180’ for her to stop, she said she took her foot off the gas immediately.
Prosecutor Wood said a vehicle moves 65’ per second at 45 mph.
The mother’s defense attorney Jeffrey Weberman said the person who should be on trial is Sharon Henley.
“She should have seen this child,” Weberman said. “She’s not on trial and they are going against a mother who was trying to catch her child and screaming. I’m asking you to dismiss this case. There was no negligence on her part.”
The father’s defense attorney French said the grandfather had testified the father had “busted his bottom all the way back to the house… The driver was not being prudent when driving.”
Prosecutor Woodyard spelled out the details of “gross negligence.” He said the neighbor saw the child at least twice at the road and Chad told her it was a game.
He said CPS had specifically admonished the parents that Chad needed better supervision. They could have closed the gates, he said. Woodyard said the defendants failed to use ordinary care.
“We’ve met our burden” of proof, Woodyard said.
Judge Green said, “This is a terrible thing,” but for purposes of today, there is enough proof to bind the defendants over.
“I used to live on a busy street and I raised my kids,” Judge Green said.
Donald Hazel Swinson
Donald Hazel Swinson, 76, waived his preliminary exam and Judge Green bound him over to circuit court on March 29 for an arraignment on the information.
He is charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, a felony, and weapons felony firearm (using a gun to commit a felony) on Feb. 15 in Sumpter Township.
Swinson is free after posting $10,000/10% bond and his bond was continued. Sumpter Officer Jim Cayce is the officer in charge of the case.