Judge denies motion to dismiss charge for toddler’s death
Ellen Tran accused of second-degree reckless homicide
BY KEVIN BONESKE
Oneida County Judge Patrick F. O’Melia has denied a motion to dismiss a felony charge of second-degree reckless homicide against a 28-year-old Rhinelander-area woman accused of causing the death of her 20-month-old stepson.
Ellen L. Tran, who is free on a $50,000 cash bond, appeared in court Thursday for a motion hearing with her attorney, Amy C. Scholz, who argued the criminal complaint against her client failed to state probable cause that an act by Tran caused the boy’s death and that she acted recklessly in doing so.
“I don’t believe the state has met their burden of probable cause in the criminal complaint and it should be dismissed,” Scholz said.
In response, Oneida County district attorney Michael W. Schiek argued that the complaint “sufficiently establishes probable cause.”
“The facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient in themselves, put together with these witnesses, to allow a reasonable person to conclude that a crime was probably committed and that the defendant probably committed said crime,” Schiek said.
The circumstances surrounding Tran being charged for the alleged crime – which carries a maximum possible penalty of 15 years of initial confinement in prison, followed by 10 years of extended supervision, and/or a $100,000 fine upon conviction – relate to a 911 call the county’s dispatch center received the evening of April 14 when it was reported a child had trouble breathing at a residence in the town of Newbold.
The child, identified as Avery J. Edwards, was transported to St. Mary’s Hospital in Rhinelander, where he was then flown out to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Marshfield and passed away a short time later.
According to a sheriff’s department report put together by captain Terri Hook, the preliminary findings of an autopsy performed by Dr. Doug Kelley of the Fond du Lac County Medical Examiner’s Office were the boy died of blunt force trauma to the head.
The sheriff’s department report further states Tran had been the only adult present when the alleged incident happened and she had been caring for the boy, as well as a nine-year-old son and a 15-month-old daughter. When shown photos of the forehead of Avery Edwards and asked how the marks on his head occurred, Tran said the boy did not look like that when he left the house and had fallen in the shower.
When asked how the boy fell in the shower, however, Tran said she could not remember how the fall happened, according to the sheriff’s department report, which also stated a doctor at the Child Abuse Center at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Kristen Iniguez, contacted Hook on April 15 related to concern about the boy’s injuries not matching the information Tran provided.
In denying the motion to dismiss, O’Melia pointed out the boy had no symptoms of the injuries he sustained that led to his death, at the time his father left for work, which was less than an hour before the 911 call was made.
“We have a child that is literally dying in the house less than an hour later,” O’Melia said. “(Tran) testified that he fell, or was dropped, or tipped over in the shower. The child died of a blunt force trauma, had bruises on his body. He did not have the bruise before he got in the shower.”
O’Melia said Tran knew the child was fussy, clumsy, didn’t like running water and was difficult to shower, for which she was aware of the risk of having the boy in the shower.
Based on statements made in the case that O’Melia found to be consistent and credible, he said the allegations in the complaint support a charge of second-degree reckless homicide.
Ellen Tran is scheduled back in court June 23 for a preliminary hearing.