ADAMS COUNTY, Colo. - A 23-year-old mother who was out smoking while her 4-year-old son drowned in a pool was sentenced Tuesday to five years of probation with intensive supervision for felony child abuse.
Kayla Erin Barnett pleaded guilty in October to negligent child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury in the death of her son, Izaiah Lopez, who drowned in a swimming pool at Pine Lake Ranch Mobile Home Park in Thornton on June 9.
The boy, who could not swim, was found face down in the lap pool and was not wearing a life vest.
Barnett, of Lafayette, was initially charged with negligent child abuse resulting in death but as part of a plea agreement prosecutors dropped that charge and agreed not to seek jail time for the mother, who was said to be very remorseful.
"Ultimately her worst punishment, I do not doubt, is the loss of her son,” said Deputy District Attorney Christa Landis.
She said that Barnett was responsible for her son’s safety but left him in the pool while she went outside the pool area to smoke, a location where she could not see her son.
The mother thought other adult family members were watching her son in the pool while she went outside to smoke. Even though the mother is partially at fault, prosecutors said a jail sentence would not be appropriate.
"In this particular type of case, it's a negligent act. Negligence is a gross-deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would take," Adams County District Attorney Dave Young explained. "Negligence crimes generally don't carry a prison sentence in Colorado."
According to an arrest affidavit, witnesses told police Barnett was busy smoking cigarettes -- and marijuana -- while ignoring her son on the day he drowned in the pool.
Young, however, said that witnesses had conflicting accounts about the mother's conduct that day.
Barnett told police she went to smoke in the clubhouse area while Izaiah was in the baby pool with other children surrounded by other adults. She claimed her son was wearing a black-and-yellow life jacket.
Barnett said she had been smoking for about 10 minutes outside the pool enclosure when she heard screaming and someone saying, "That baby is not breathing." She told police she walked toward the commotion and saw Izaiah being removed from the pool. The boy was blue and water was pouring from his mouth, nose and ears.
The mother said the boy was no longer wearing his life jacket and she said she didn't know how the boy got into the adult pool.
People attempted CPR on the boy and paramedics rushed him by ambulance to North Suburban Medical Center where he was pronounced dead, police said.
Police officers who were at the hospital when medical staff told the family the boy had died overheard a weeping Barnett say, "Why did I leave him alone like that?...he was wearing his vest."
Barnett's mother, Elizabeth Tillinghast replied, "He must have taken it off."
Several of Barnett's family members told police the mother had been smoking cigarettes for about 30 to 40 minutes outside the pool area when the boy drowned.
Barnett's aunt, Darlene Aguilar, told police the mother "wasn't watching Izaiah all that day."
Brenda Velasquez, a cousin of Barnett, said she didn't see Barnett "play with Izaiah the entire time they were there." "Brenda feels that the defendant neglected her responsibility to watch Izaiah," an investigator wrote in the affidavit.
Adult family members said Barnett didn't ask them to watch Izaiah, but the relatives said they played a lot with the boy in the pool because they'd only seen him about four or five times in his lifetime.