Dad found with adopted girl's body in truck tries to injure himself in jail, taken to hospital

Date: 2011-02-17

By Alexia Campbell, Mike Clary and Wayne K. Roustan
Sun Sentinel

WEST PALM BEACH — A Miami-Dade father tried to injure himself in jail Thursday morning and refused to appear in court, four days after he was found in his pickup truck along Interstate 95 with his adopted son soaked in chemicals and the boy's twin sister dead in the back.

When jail deputies told Jorge Barahona to get ready for court early Thursday, the inmate tried to bang his head in an attempt to hurt himself, according to the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office. Medical personnel checked him out and decided he was fine to go to the hearing, but Barahona did not cooperate and refused to go.

In court, Palm Beach County Judge Ted Booras ordered Barahona, 53, to be held on a $1 million bond. He also ordered a mental evaluation.

So far Barahona is charged with aggravated child abuse in connection with the chemical burns suffered by his stepson, Victor.

Following the hearing, Barahona's attorney declined to comment on the case. Jail deputies then took Barahona to Wellington Regional Medical Center for observation, the Sheriff's Office said.

Meanwhile, questions persist about it child welfare workers may have missed a chance to prevent tragedy three days before Nubia, 10, was found dead in the truck bed.

Barahona and his adopted son Victor, the girl's twin brother, drove to West Palm Beach with plans to kill himself. Barahona and Victor were found doused in chemicals near Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard.

On Wednesday, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman expressed anger after she heard disturbing details of the twins' abuse.

Responding to a hotline tip that the twins, Nubia and Victor, were at times bound with duct tape and locked in the bathroom, an investigator visited the couple's house Friday.

A state Department of Children & Families caseworker visited the southwest Miami house where Barahona and his wife, Carmen, lived with their four adopted children. But the caseworker, Andrea Fleary, said Carmen Barahona intervened when she saw that the two children present in the house, an 11-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl, wanted to talk to her outside their mother's hearing.

Judge Lederman on Wednesday ordered the surviving children back into protective custody.

"Anyone who knew anything going on in this house will have no contact whatsoever," said Lederman. The judge turned to a weeping Carmen Barahona and added, "You are to have no contact. You understand that?"

David Wilkins, the state head of DCF, has ordered an investigation.

"It's a tragic case," said DCF southern regional director Jacqui Colyer. "We are not in the business of placing children in unsafe environments. It's abhorrent."

The afternoon hearing came after West Palm Beach police said in a statement that Barahona, 53, claimed he drove to West Palm Beach because he was distraught over the death of Nubia and planned to commit suicide.

He did not tell police how the girl died. Nor did he go through with his suicide plan.

Instead, Barahona and his son were discovered in his pest control service truck early Monday, triggering a massive two-day crime scene investigation at the busy highway and an investigation into DCF's handling of the children placed in the family's care.

All four of the Barahonas' children were adopted after first being placed in their home for foster care.

After the 40-minute hearing Wednesday, Carmen Barahona used a paper to shield her face, and left the children's court in Miami without speaking to the throng of television cameras outside.

The pest control truck was removed from the scene along I-95 near Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard about 4:15 a.m. Thursday, according to Sun Sentinel news partner WPTV-Ch. 5. Traffic through the area remained restricted with police officials still present.

Barahona was moved from Columbia Hospital and taken to jail in Palm Beach County late Tuesday, according to the booking blotter. He has been charged with aggravated child abuse stemming from the acid burns and seizures his son suffered, said West Palm Beach police spokesman Chase Scott.

Victor was moved to Holtz Children's Hospital burn unit in Miami. It is part of the Jackson Memorial Hospital system. His injuries from the chemical burns continue to be extremely difficult to treat, and he remains in critical condition. He is receiving intensive treatment from the burn unit specialists in the pediatric intensive care unit. Victor, when awake, is said to be interactive and moving, though he remains in bed.

Nubia's remains were found in the back of the truck, so saturated with toxic chemicals that the body could not be removed from the scene for more than 24 hours after it was discovered.

In court, Lederman listened to horrifying testimony that the twins were at times bound with duct tape and locked in the bathroom.

She was shown a recent picture of Victor with extensive scarring on his body and marks on his wrists.

That hotline tip about possible abuse was triggered by the 7-year-old biological granddaughter of Carmen Barahona, 60, who attends public elementary school with the couple's two other adopted children and visited the home regularly.

The granddaughter mentioned the suspected abuse to a teacher even though Carmen Barahona had warned her not to talk about it, according to Walter Lambert, a pediatrician and DCF consultant.

"These were family secrets," Lambert said Carmen Barahona told the child.

The teacher called the hotline, Lambert said.

Assigned to investigate the abuse complaint, caseworker Fleary told the court she visited the home in the 11500 block of Southwest 47th Terrace on Thursday and Friday.

But Jorge Barahona was not there either time, she said, nor were the twins.

Fleary said Carmen Barahona told her she and her husband had been separated for six months, and that she did not know where he or the other children were. During the visits, Fleary said, the couple's two other adopted children tried to speak to her outside of their mother's hearing.

However, "she hushed them," Fleary said, referring to Barahona.

Asked by Lederman why she didn't press on with inquiries after noting Barahona's coersive actions, Fleary said she was not permitted to conduct investigations on the weekend without supervisory permission.

Colyer, the DCF official, said investigations are conducted at all hours. But, she added, "to know everything that's going on in that family requires time, and we didn't have that time."

Carmen Barahona has told DCF investigators that she knew nothing about any abuse. But attorney Esther Jacobo, deputy statewide director of DCF's legal services, said Carmen was untruthful about being separated from her husband, and lying when she claimed ignorance of the abuse. "So the mother is complicit," said Jacobo.

There were apparently other warning signs, including several prior investigations of the family triggered by tips, according to DCF spokesman Mark Riordan.

In court Wednesday, Miami attorney Steven Grossbard said he represented Ana Reyes, the sister of the twins' biological father, who tried to adopt the pair before they were adopted by the Barahonas in 2008.

"I think there were red flags in this case, and we tried to bring it to the court's attention," said Grossbard.

In his statement to police, Jorge Barahona said he picked a spot to pull over on I-95 near the Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard exit so authorities could easily find him after the suicide, the report said.

Barahona reportedly gave his son a handful of sleeping pills and told him to swallow them "so he could sleep."

As Victor's head lay in his father's lap, Barahona used a gas tank to douse himself with gasoline and planned to set himself on fire, he said. He was unable to go through with it because the boy was there, he told police.

An investigator said Barahona could not explain the severe injuries his son suffered, which included serious burns to his abdomen, upper thighs and buttocks. He also had a fractured clavicle and arm, scarring on his stomach and buttocks, and markings on both wrists.

When a road ranger spotted the truck around 5:30 a.m. along the expressway, he found the boy inside, suffering from "respiratory distress and trembling." His clothes were soaked. Barahona was unresponsive on the grass.

The girl's body in the bed of the pickup wasn't discovered until about 5 p.m. Monday, when a state Department of Environmental Protection worker sifting through the chemicals uncovered the gruesome bundle, said police spokesman Scott.

The body was taken to the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner's Office to be identified.


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