Sarah Angelina Chavez lived a life of hell in her short 2 years of life. She was born on December 5, 2002. Her mother Sophia Chavez was addicted to vicodin, she began taking it for a medical problem and continued abusing them throughout her pregnancy with Sarah. She then delivered a stillborn in the toilet of her home on News Years in 2005 and called 911.
It was at this point that case workers were alerted that Sarah was staying with her great-aunt and they tracked her down in some apartments. When they finally found Sarah she had 2 black eyes and a cut to her nose. Frances Abundis, Sarah’s great-aunt said “Sarah was running and she went right into the fire engine truck,” she said. “They were playing, and I remember you know, she got up and she had a scratch.”
Sarah was taken into custody by CPS. This was not the first time Sarah had an encounter with children’s services. The first time was when she was born addicted to vicodin and a case was opened but never followed up on due to the case workers mistake.
She was given a second chance at life and love when she was placed in the home of Diane Hardy-Garcia and Corri Planck, a loving foster couple who were prepared to love and give her a happy home and stable environment. They wanted to adopt a child and had gone through all the grueling paperwork and classes to finally qualify.
Diane says when she went to pick Sarah up and saw her for the first time
“she had chocolate all over her face, and she had a candy cane in her mouth, and I brought her a little teddy bear and she jumped in my arms,” she said. “It was love at first sight, I think, for both of us.”
Corri called Sarah “so charming, and so friendly and engaging with other people.”
At Sarah’s new home she had everything she could dream of, her own bedroom, new toys, a bed and all the love and attention she could handle. Her favorite book was “Mary Poppins,” and she bonded instantly with the pet schnauzer, who would sleep outside Sarah’s door.
Diane and Corri also said that you could tell Sarah came from an “explosive environment” because at her tender age of 2 she already knew how to choke someone with both hands and she had terrible night terrors that would keep her up at night. She also knew how to use curse words.
It wasn’t long before they suspected that Sarah had been a victim of sexual abuse. They requested many times through the case worker that a medical assessment be done. No one ever set up a appointment for Sarah, the women were worried that no one ever listened to their concerns about Sarah and how she needed help and was not getting it.
The caseworker noted she got lost on the way to the clinic and never rescheduled the appointment.
During all of this Sarah was getting court-ordered weekly visits with her mother, who either didn’t bother to show up for the visits or showed up late. Sarah’s great-aunt/godmother Frances did show up though. She always said she didn’t want Sarah to grow up with someone that wasn’t family.
Diane and Corri had no idea that Sarah’s family was fighting to get her back at Children’s Court. Sophia Chavez, Sarah’s so called mother was especially mad because her daughter was living with a lesbian couple.
Sophia sure the hell wasn’t going to clean up for Sarah’s sake so she couldn’t get custody. Her daughter wasn’t that important.
God forbid, 2 women could love, spoil and cherish this child unconditionally, Sophia would rather her daughter be beat and raped than be with a couple lesbians. Yes, instead it was better to send her back to Frances and Armando Abundis.
Frances proudly told others,
“I was the godmother and when the mother’s not able to take that to be the mother, then the godmother steps in to take care of that child. And that’s why I fought to get Sarah,”
During the Children’s Court hearings Diane and Corri never got to speak and their complaints were never told to the judge by the caseworkers. Their earlier complaints of suspected sexual abuse proved to fall on deaf ears, no one listened, no one cared even though it was documented by case workers.
There was an error and the foster parents were never notified how to contact Josephanie Ackman, the attorney that represented Sarah. Josephanie also represented 165 other children at the same time, the lawyer never even met Sarah or her foster parents. Sarah was a case number not a child.
“Sarah’s lawyer was her only advocate in court. It was her only voice. And she was virtually silent,” Corri said. It was said that Josephanie barely ever spoke in court.
When the foster parents posed the question to Josephanie’s supervisor, Lisa Mandel, and asked why there was no contact about who the attorney was and why there was no contact they were told “I don’t know”. Lisa Mandel did say that “This case shakes us to the core,” and “It’s devastating.”
Despite the proof of abuse, the 2 black eyes when Sarah lived with her Aunt Frances and Uncle Armando the court placed her back into their care. The court was never told about the allegations of sexual abuse.
A criminal background was never bothered with nor was there ever a home inspection done before Sarah went back to her family. They could have been sending this child into a crack den for all they knew.
What changed in the 5 months to suddenly make the caseworkers and the judge believe this child was going to be taken care of now? NOTHING!
Who ordered this child back to her tormentors? Joan Marie Carney, a part-time, once suspended attorney who referee’s at the Children’s Courthouse. Joan made up her mind that Sarah was going back to her family before she ever knew anything about her. She told the court she was “tired of excuses for why this child hasn’t been released.” When anyone did try to explain the case she said the “and the mother can see her to” she also told Frances “OK, you’re going to pick the baby up,” and when the attorney’s told Joan that the paperwork was not done nor was the home inspection done she said “because I said so.”
For the first time, Diane and Corri heard from Sarah’s lawyer, it was to tell them that they were being ordered to put the little girl back into the “explosive home” she came from, the very home she was having night terrors about.
“I answered the phone, and I immediately started to cry, and I was, like, ‘How is that possible?'” Dianne said. “That is the person accused of abusing her.”
They were given 1 hour to pack Sarah up and send her to hell that morning on April 25th. Even a year later both women break down and cry when talking about Sarah and the day she left.
“We had an hour to start packing up. She started putting her things back in the drawer, saying, ‘No!'” Corri said. “She cried and we were trying not to cry so much in front of her. It was the most helpless, terrible feeling. We had no confidence that she was going to a safe place. It was like she … she knew. We were crazy about this kid, and she was amazing, amazing child. It was heartbreaking.”
“Corri was really clear,” Dianne said. “She always said, ‘We’re going to read that Sarah was killed one day.’ And I just couldn’t even allow myself to think that.”
When Sarah arrived at her Aunt Frances’ home she was welcomed by her 5-year-old cousin Armando Jr, nicknamed AJ. The court also allowed Sophia to visit her daughter as much as she wanted but she hardly ever showed up to see her.
“It was hard the withdrawals and everything,” said Sophia, who admits it affected her daughter. “She always told me, ‘Mommy, don’t lie. You’re going to come right?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to come.”
The caseworker never documented anything regarding Sophia not showing up for visits or how Sarah was being treated in her new home.
Jontuluanne Butler, Sarah’s caseworker noted that on her September 28th visit she looked “so tired” and wanted to know where her mommy was. She had by that time quit talking in complete sentences and could barely put two words together. Her world was falling apart and her mom has stopped coming to see her.
Frances would later tell “Primetime” in an interview that Armando quit working and began to act very differently. She says she never reported his behavior to the case worker or to the courts though.
She also admitted to selling drugs and neighbors said Armando sat outside drinking beer like it was kool-aid. One neighbor said that Armando treated Sarah badly and said “Sarah did not listen” and wondered “if it was really worth all the trouble of taking her into their home.”
Frances said she didn’t know how bad Armando’s behavior was towards the kids until much later. “My son was afraid of his father. There was hitting going on when I wasn’t home. My son said that I used to protect him,” she said.
Frances later told police that little AJ heard Armando behind a closed door with Sarah and she was screaming her lungs out.
On October 10th Frances came home and said “Sarah was in the room, um, standing there, just standing there. And I remember seeing her arm was twisted in,” when she asked her husband what happened he told her that she fell down.
Sarah’s arm was so horrendously broken above her elbow there was boneS sticking out causing her upper arm to be disconnected from the rest and just falling at her side because she wasn’t able to move it.
Frances lived close enough for her to pick that baby up and walk to the ER but instead she chose to drive to her own mothers house and then go to a Mexican healer called a sobadora. She wanted the “healer” that had no medical training to “heal” Sarah.
“I told the lady, the sobadora, I was scared that I didn’t have an answer what happened to Sarah and that they were going to take Sarah away from me,” Frances said.
Frances finally took her niece to the hospital and after waiting for 4 hours, doctor’s looked her over and recommended various tests. She then decided she was going to leave. Frances signed that child out of the hospital against doctor’s orders and they wrote on her paperwork that Sarah could have “other injuries” or might “lose limb or life.”
The paperwork from the hospital also showed Frances refused a CT scan, blood tests and urine tests. She tried to say the hospital never told her that the tests were important. The hospital failed to call CPS when they left.
Frances said the next morning when she went to wake little Sarah up,
“She was just kind of like stiff. And I kept on pushing her and I started shaking her and I slapped her,” Frances said. “And I got her and I told her, ‘Sarah, wake up, please wake up. Sarah, wake up, please wake up.’ And she wouldn’t wake up.”
When 911 was called and the baby was taken to the hospital she was pronounces dead. Her injuries were caused by the hands of an adult, not by a fall like Armando stated earlier the previous day.
Armando and Frances Abundis were arrested and charged with murder, child abuse and related charges of neglect on October 11, 2005. Both have pleaded not guilty. According to court records, Frances was also charged for two pounds of marijuana found in their home.
Their son AJ is now in the same broken system that Sarah was in. AJ told police that his “dad hit Sarah and she hit him back” and “Sarah cried because of her arm, because the bone was pointing out.” He also said his dad would punch Sarah with his fist.
Dianne and Corri, Sarah’s former foster parents believe “She removed her against medical advice from the hospital the night before,” Corri said. “She had another chance to try to, not protect her, but to let her be protected. And she didn’t do it.”
“Even if Francis didn’t deliver the blow, she certainly contributed to her death.” “Sarah was let down by the medical system, by the legal system, and by the child welfare system. And her family. Everybody that should have protected this child let her down,” she said.
At the preliminary hearing in December 2005 Frances said she never told the hospital she was Sarah’s mom but nurses disagree saying she did. Why does this matter? Because if Frances would have said that she was not the mother it would have been a huge risk and staff would have likely gotten CPS involved.
Frances’ lawyer Alex Kessel said that they would prove that Frances is innocent because the video tape at the hospital showed Sarah moving around, this would mean that Frances had no idea that Sarah was in danger of losing her life. He also said the doctor’s had not found any internal injuries at that point.
Several witnesses testified that Frances was concerned for the baby’s safety at the ER. When the doctor put a splint on her arm but couldn’t find a vein to take blood Sarah started getting tired and fussy so Frances left against doctors orders.
Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. David Whiteman testified that Sarah’s “manner of death was homicide at the hands of another person. The cause was multiple traumatic injuries. There were a number of external bruises on the skin, on the legs, and evidence of a healing of the right humorus and one joint of her left fourth finger. And there was injury to her abdomen, a portion of her small intestine had been completely severed.”
He also said other injuries included retroperitoneal hemorrhaging; and hemorrhaging around the pancreas or injury to the pancreas, hemorrhaging around both kidneys and both adrenal glands, hemorrhaging to the liver, some lacerations to the liver, lacerations to the diaphragm, bruising to her lungs and spleen and torn ligaments.
The coroner also determined that there was a strong possibility that she was sexually abused.
He said the sepsis from peritonitis was the main reason Sarah died. This infection causes your body to go into shock and then die.
“The infection can cause fever. But she could be so much in shock, she may not have the energy to have a fever.” Additionally, the pain could be so severe, “deep breaths may aggravate the pain so the child may not cry.”
During testimony it was said that if someone would have hit Sarah in the stomach with a baseball bat it still wouldn’t have cause the type of injuries she suffered. Her injuries were caused from a upper-cut punch.
All of the medical staff that was called to the stand plead the 5th for fear they would be sued because they knew they were mandatory reporters and failed Sarah as did everyone else.
State regulators sanctioned the hospital for several errors, one of them being failure to find the internal injuries that caused Sarah’s death. They also said staff should have recognized the “signs of child abuse”.
There were also 9 caseworkers that were blamed for failing Sarah.
Armando went through 5 attorney’s and held the trial up for as long as possible. One attorney had a health problem delaying proceedings for a month.
Armando Abundis Sr. was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, assault on a child causing death, and child abuse likely to produce great bodily harm.
His charges were lowered to a lesser penalty because the jury did not believe that he “intended” to murder Sarah although they did agree that he did intend to harm her. They agreed “his awareness was lacking.”
Up until July of 2008 Armando was walking around as a free man awaiting sentencing.
Superior Court Judge Teri Schwartz sentenced Armando to 25 years to life in prison. She said his “viciousness, cruelty and lack of caring” is why she was denying probation for him. YES, this is what his attorney was suggesting for this scumbag.
When his guilty charges were read his family were shaking their heads in disgust. Perhaps they are all alike. The family refused to make any comments.
Frances pleaded no contest and was released in November 2006, after being held for 14 months.
“It’s closure for us,” said a weeping Paulina Ortiz, Frances Abundis’ sister. “We’ve been through so much. We don’t have Sarah, but Sarah spoke through 12 people today.”
Frances Abundis told reporters during a jail house interview “I’m sitting here, for something I did not do. And he’s sitting over there not saying what happened,” also “The only thing I understand that if it was my mistake for leaving the hospital, I accept that,” she said. “But if I would have known that she had internal injuries. I wouldn’t have left.”
I wonder what Sarah thinks about her enabling Aunt Frances? Sarah probably loved her regardless of what she allowed to happen.