EAGLE, Colorado - An Avon woman was sentenced to six years in prison after admitting she was drunk when she started an altercation with her boyfriend, tripped and fell on her infant son, killing him.
Tanya Baca had pleaded guilty last month to manslaughter, Class 4 felony. She was sentenced Wednesday.
Her blood alcohol level was .209 at the time of the June 6 incident that killed her son, Uriah, said Bryan Lynch with the probation department.
Baca, dressed conservatively in a black pants suit, stood at the podium with a multi-page statement to read to the court. She cried for several moments, finally composing herself to speak to the court.
"I cannot begin to describe the feelings of loss, regret and heartache since the loss of my little angel," she said.
She told District Court Judge Tom Moorhead she had finished the restorative justice program and apologized to her family and boyfriend, the child's father.
"I'm sad to say my actions were unintentional but avoidable," she said. "This horrific tragedy has been so horrible for so many."
Moorhead listened attentively to those who spoke for and against leniency for Baca.
"The job I perform today has nothing to do with vengeance or forgiveness," Moorhead said. "It is not simply a matter of me saying that I personally forgive you and that the sentence will be a certain sentence. Neither will I pass a sentence based on vengeance or revenge."
"The court is being asked to disregard the life that was lost because of the anguish you suffer," Moorhead said.
He said the court could not do that.
Moorhead indicated that the evidence did not support her story about drinking only two shots and a sip of her boyfriend's beer, adding that that story has not changed since the time of the child's death.
He pointed out that she was sentenced in February 2009 to two years probation, stemming from her domestic violence assault on her boyfriend. She violated those terms eight months later, Moorhead said. She was put back on probation and was required to complete 36 hours of domestic violence classes, which she did not, Moorhead said.
Less than a month later she violated her probation again and has continued to use alcohol, Moorhead said.
"You have ignored and disregarded all that, and a child has lots its life because of it," Moorhead said, handing down the six-year sentence.
The probation department recommended the maximum six-year sentence. Lynch cited state law, not emotion in making the recommendation.
"The probation department is unanimous in its recommendation in this case," Lynch said. "This is an incredibly tragic case and no sentence will ever mitigate the death of that infant."
"She was highly intoxicated and became involved in an altercation that resulted in the death of her infant son," Lynch said.
When she was initially questioned, she lied about the nature of the event being an accident and that alcohol was involved, Lynch said.
She says she consumed two shots and a few sips of beer. Her blood alcohol level .209, more than twice the legal limit.
"It's just not possible," Lynch said.
Lynch said she continued to deny she has a problem with alcohol, and if the death of her son is not sufficient to bring her to that realization, nothing will.
Assistant District Attorney Steve Mallory said Baca instigated the fight with her boyfriend, the infant's father, citing jealousy. That fight resulted in the blunt force trauma that fractured the infant son's skull and killed him, Mallory said.
"Even after the death of her child she refuses to admit to alcohol problems," Mallory said.
Show of support
Baca graduated Battle Mountain High School and was raised in Minturn. More than a dozen of Baca's friends and family members were in the courtroom, as they have been for each of her court appearances.
Her defense attorney, Reed Owens with the public defenders office, was passionate in arguing on Baca's behalf.
"There is nothing anyone can do to change what has happened. She cannot substitute her life for his, but two wrongs do not make a right," Owens said. "We cannot go back. These things haunt Ms. Baca. They carry on the guilt and agony, and a prison sentence will do nothing to honor that child."
Owens called it a tragic accident.
"It was a completely avoidable accident. She has acknowledged that it was her actions that caused this death," Owens said.
"Ms. Baca has made it clear that she still punishes herself. The punishment and guilt she lives with is more than or equal to anything the court could impose, and that her actions took the life of someone she loves," Owens said.
About the incident
About a half hour after midnight on the night of the incident, Avon police responded to the Vail Valley Medical Center to investigate injuries to a 3-month old Avon boy.
The child was airlifted from Vail to Children's Hospital in Aurora where medical personnel continued to try to save him, said Avon police Lt. Greg Daly.
"After advanced medical attempts to save the child, the child died," Daly said.
Baca gets credit for the 70 days she served in the Eagle County jail. She was freed last month on a $50,000 personal recognizance bond. She was returned to jail Wednesday.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.