Hayward couple charged with homicide, neglect, abuse in 4-year-old’s death; BAC at ‘lethal’ level

Published: Mar. 23, 2022 at 12:53 PM CDT
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HAYWARD, WI -- Murder, neglect, and abuse charges have been filed against a Hayward man and woman after a 4-year-old suffering from cerebral palsy died in their care and a “lethal” amount of alcohol was detected in her bloodstream.

The child’s mother, Samantha Smith, 26, and her significant other, Domenic Falkner, 25, have been charged in connection to the case.

Falkner is facing first-degree intentional homicide, physical abuse of a child, and chronic neglect of a child charges. He’s expected to appear in Sawyer County Court Wednesday morning.

Smith is facing chronic neglect of a child and physical abuse charges. She is also set to appear in court Wednesday morning.

According to court documents, first responders were called to a home on W. 2nd. St. in Hayward on July 28, 2021.

They received a report that a 4-year-old wasn’t able to wake up.

When first responders arrived, they declared the young girl deceased.

An autopsy was not conducted at the time of the victim’s death, but the Sawyer County Coroner drew a sample of her blood and sent it in for analysis.

The Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene determined the victim had a blood alcohol content of .572 g/100mL at the time of her death.

Because of this discovery, an autopsy was performed and her cause of death was ruled acute ethanol toxicity with the manner of death being homicide.

Law enforcement interviewed both Smith and Falkner after these findings. They both admitted to being the only ones home at the time of the victim’s death.

They also said they were the ones to feed the victim through her feeding tube.

Smith also stated that she typically was the person who administered medications via the victim’s feeding tube.

According to court documents, the victim was diagnosed at or near birth with severe cerebral palsy. She could not speak or move and received nutrition and hydration through a feeding tube only.

Falkner was an approved caregiver through Sawyer County Human Services and was paid to care for the victim by Certification for Long Term Care (CLTC.)

According to court records, Falkner moved into Smith’s home to help care for the child in August 2020.

Law enforcement says that date is significant because before then, the victim had never had any indication of abuse during her extensive doctor visits for her cerebral palsy diagnosis.

However, after that date, law enforcement learned there were multiple incidents where the victim was either hospitalized for trauma or when the victim’s father apparently noticed signs of abuse.

It is unclear why charges were filed months after the girl’s death.

It’s also unclear if law enforcement was aware of the possible abuse leading up to the victim’s death or if signs of abuse were reported.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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