A Vermont mother denied felony charges stemming from an August car crash that left her toddler son dead. Christina Deslandes, 25, cried as she left the Essex County criminal court in Guildhall Tuesday morning.
Minutes earlier, her defense attorney entered not guilty pleas on charges of involuntary manslaughter (reckless endangerment), involuntary manslaughter (criminal negligence), grossly negligent motor vehicle operation, and cruelty to a child resulting in death.
According to court papers, Deslandes wanted to take her 3-year-old, Bentley Castrogiovanni, berry picking on August 16, so drove him to that activity.
However, prosecutors said the mother drove with her preschooler in the front seat, not in a proper child seat, and not even wearing a seat belt.
A subsequent car crash into a utility pole left the child dead from blunt force trauma of the head and neck, according to a portion of a medical examiner's report included in a police report authored by Trooper Debra Munson of the Vermont State Police.
The police report additionally said Deslandes told investigators she hadn't been feeling well and had recently been experiencing "blackout spells." One of those episodes struck Deslandes while driving, according to what she told investigators, which reportedly left her seeing a bright light before everything went black, she said.
The court records additionally referred to the mom telling an assistant medical examiner that her boy wasn't buckled, but telling Trooper Munson that she thought she had buckled him in the front seat. The report said investigators found a child safety seat in the back of the car, unused that day.
"Although there's a great deal of sympathy for a mother who loses a child tragically under this type of circumstance, the message is the law will hold every parent accountable for not properly securing their children," said Vince Illuzzi, the Essex County State's Attorney.
Illuzzi told necn that Deslandes was informed of proper car safety seat installation and use at North Country Hospital, where he said Bentley was born. He said her vehicle, a 2001 Volkswagen Jetta, also had safety warnings about car safety use and the danger of having children in the front seat, where they could be killed by an air bag.
"It was clearly avoidable, if child restraints had been used as the mother was instructed at the time of discharge from North Country Hospital," Illuzzi said. "And if she had not been operating, given her history of blackouts for the past several months."
Deslandes's large family surrounded her after court, providing support, and telling reporters that Deslandes is a good mother who has been devastated by the loss of her son.
"That was a total accident," Betty Castrogiovanni, Bentley's paternal grandmother said of the August crash that killed her grandson. "You don't know the days--every single day--she's at the cemetery on that bench saying prayers."
Relatives expressed deep disappointment that serious criminal charges were filed, claiming the prosecutor was overzealous.
"She's going to be paying for this for the rest of her life," predicted Linda Deslandes, Bentley's maternal grandmother. "We all will be. You can see it in her eyes; the pain and hurt. She's gone through enough already."
Christina Deslandes was released on court-imposed conditions including that she not drive until those medical episodes are cleared up, then, not to drive with kids.
Each of the felony charges Christina Deslandes is facing carries a potential maximum sentence of 10 or 15 years in prison, if she is convicted, according to court paperwork. Members of her family said they believe she has already been punished enough.