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Baby Deaths Could Land Mothers in Court

POSTED: Friday, May 22, 2009 - 7:16am

UPDATED: Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 3:24pm

EL PASO--- In the last two years, five children in El Paso have died as a result of suffocating in their sleep, sometimes when sleeping with parents in their beds.

The El Paso County Child Fatality Review Team, made up of law enforcement officials, medical professionals, social workers, prosecutors and child advocacy workers, is hoping to make parents aware of unsafe sleeping habits.

Habits, such as sleeping with toddlers and infants in an adult bed or putting too many pillows or cushions in a baby's crib, have been responsible for the five deaths.

Angela Zavala, a researcher in the program, said it was all new information to her.
She, who has two children and another baby on the way.

"Upon reviewing all the information that's when I realized that I could have done this myself, and I had never realized it until now. Until after six years," she said.

Four of the five children who died died while sleeping with their parent.

While most of the time these deaths are accidental, NewsChannel 9 found out sometimes it could land mothers in trouble with the law.

ACCIDENT GONE WRONG

Early in the morning May 23, 2008, 26-year-old Denise Perez went to sleep with her nearly two-month-old daughter, Genesis Priego, next to her.
When she woke up, her baby was dead.

While most times this would be considered an accident, Perez was charged in her baby's death, and here's why.

According to a report by EMS responders, they say Perez "stated she had been drinking at home with her friend until approximately 3:30" in the morning.

She went to bed with her infant and toddler by her side, then responders overheard her saying that morning on the phone that "she woke up on top of the infant and the infant was not responding."

We tried speaking to Perez and her attorney this afternoon at their plea hearing.
They declined to comment.

Perez was charged with second degree felony of causing serious bodily injury to Genesis, because she had been drinking the night before.

Asst. district attorney Penny Hamilton says she's just trying to keep another tragic death like this from happening again.

"You should never ever do that it's never going to be safe if you're under the influence of any sort of drugs, alcohol, if you have a sleep disorder, if you're over tired...where children can't extricate themselves from an unsafe environment, that's when the tragedy strikes," said Hamilton.

Perez pled guilty today in the 171st Judicial District Court, but Judge Bonnie Rangel set that plea aside.

Perez now must take parenting classes, alcohol/drug counseling and testing, and perform 300 hours of community service.

If she doesn't follow the agreement over the next 10 years, she could face two to 20 years in prison.

PREVENTING DEATHS

The Child Fatality Review Team hopes caregivers and parents follow these tips to reduce the risk of accidentally smothering their children:

1. An infant should be in a separate sleep surface that is close to the parent.
2. Placing an infant on his/her back to sleep provides a more stable sleep position
3. Remove pillows, bumper pads and toys from cribs and bassinettes
4. A person supervising a child should not use drugs or alcohol.

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