Mother arrested in beating, strangling of 5-year-old daughter

Date: 2010-03-25

Janice Peterson - Daily Herald

An Eagle Mountain woman was arrested Tuesday after she allegedly beat her adopted 5-year-old daughter.

The mother, Leslie Erickson, 48, was arrested Tuesday and booked into the Utah County Jail on three first-degree felony charges of aggravated child abuse, one second-degree felony charge of obstruction of justice and a class A misdemeanor charge of providing a false written statement.

According to a Utah County Sheriff's Office news release, the child's parents were taking the girl to American Fork Hospital around 10:45 a.m. on Sunday when they decided to stop at the fire station in Eagle Mountain. They reportedly told paramedics their daughter had fallen and hurt her head.

Paramedics began transporting the girl to American Fork Hospital and asked for a medical helicopter to meet them. However, while paramedics were transporting the child to the hospital, the girl's condition deteriorated and the helicopter instead met the paramedics at Veteran's Park in Lehi, according to the release, where they took the girl directly to Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City.

Police say paramedics and personnel on the medical helicopter were suspicious about the story they were told because the injuries did not seem to be consistent with what the girl's parents reported. According to a police affidavit, Erickson claimed the girl tripped on a rug and hit her head on the bathroom floor.

Doctors at Primary Children's Medical Center later reportedly told investigators the girl's injuries could not have occurred from a single incident, but by a force equal to an unrestrained child hitting her head on a windshield in a car accident. She also allegedly had injuries consistent with strangulation, and numerous injuries from "head to toe" in varying stages of healing.

The child reportedly underwent emergency surgery at Primary Children's Medical Center to remove almost half of her skull to relieve pressure on her brain. The girl is still in the hospital in critical, but stable condition, according to the release, and the extent of her injuries and their effects are uncertain.

"They were not sure she would live through the night on Sunday," Utah County Sheriff's Office spokesman Sgt. Spencer Cannon said. "That she is still alive is a very good sign right now."

Cannon said it usually takes several days for swelling to go down enough to gauge recovery possibilities. However, he said the girl has been making efforts to communicate, so there have been signs of improvement.

According to the affidavit, both Erickson and her husband withheld information or gave false statements to doctors when asked how long the girl was without oxygen. They also allegedly provided false written information to investigators.

Police also reportedly found at least two other children in the home who sustained recent injuries consistent with intentional abuse, and seven children under the age of 18 were reportedly living in the home. They were removed from the home on Wednesday morning and transferred to the Division of Child and Family Services, which will place them in a foster home until a custody decision can be reached, Cannon said.

According to the affidavit, a witness reported observing the abuse of two other children, also adopted. During one incident, a 6-year-old boy was allegedly sitting at a table, looking at Erickson, when she asked him what he was looking at, picked him up by the shirt and threw him down the stairs. In another incident, the boy and his older brother snuck a jelly bean, after which they were allegedly forced to eat an entire bowl of jelly beans and were given buckets to vomit in.

All three children were allegedly made to stand for hours in timeout with meals withheld and were also allegedly forced to stand in a bathtub for hours if they wet their beds. The locks on their doors were also reportedly reversed to lock them in their bedrooms because they "steal food at night."

Erickson allegedly told police she disciplines the children by striking them on the bottoms of their feet and toes with a belt.

Cannon said the family has been reported in the past for alleged child abuse.

"There have been prior investigations, but none of them have been substantiated by DCFS," he said.

Investigations may not have been substantiated either because nothing happened or because not enough evidence could be produced for probable cause for arrest, Cannon said. Investigators often know or strongly suspect something is there, he said, but cannot get enough evidence to connect injuries to abuse.

According to the affidavit, the father will also be charged but has not been arrested. Investigators will reportedly be seeking a criminal summons in his case. He allegedly admitted using a belt to hit the children on the buttocks and thighs. According to the affidavit, Leslie Erickson admitted being the only person present when the girl was injured.

"We don't believe that he was the one who caused the injuries to the little girl in this case," Cannon said.


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