Grandfather charged in baby's death: 19-month-old girl was left alone in car for three hours

By Christina S. N. Lewis
Staff Writer

July 27, 2004

STAMFORD -- A 19-month-old girl was pronounced dead at Stamford Hospital yesterday evening after being left unattended in her grandfather's car, police said.

The grandfather, Christopher Newman, of 52 Vidal Court, Stamford, was charged last night with second-degree manslaughter and risk of injury to a minor.

Newman apparently forgot the toddler, Anya Sky Vazquez, was in the back seat of his car and left her there for about three hours while he went to work at 2 p.m. as a Laidlaw school bus driver, according to the man's family and police.

Yesterday's temperature peaked at a moderate 76 degrees, but Capt. Richard Conklin said the sun heated up the car.

Anya was pronounced dead at Stamford Hospital at about 6 p.m. Newman, described by friends, family and acquaintances as a decent, responsible man, was in tears when police took him into custody at Stamford Hospital.

"He was a good grandfather to the baby," said Angel Bethea, a close friend of the child's mother, Michelle Clarke, 20. "He always took care of her."

Newman was being held last night on $100,000 bond, Sgt. John Scalise said. He will be arraigned tomorrow at state Superior Court in Stamford.

He had just dropped off another of his daughters, Justina Tyson, at her job in Greenwich, Bethea said. He parked his red Chevrolet sedan in the Vidal Court parking lot, a short distance from the family's ground-floor apartment, and got into his small yellow school bus to go to work.

The mother thought the child was with him until he finished his route and returned home at about 5 p.m. The family searched for Anya, eventually finding her lifeless inside the car, still strapped into her child safety seat, Bethea said.

Sgt. Paul Vaccaro said he kept an eye on the man because he was distraught as he was brought into the police station.

"I just wanted to make sure he had someone at least to look at," Vaccaro said.

The detective bureau is investigating. Investigators declined to comment last night, saying they were questioning the suspect.

The family, all of whom live in the same unit at Vidal Court, appeared to be well-liked and respected in the neighborhood. One of Newman's sisters, Sharon, is a baby-sitter and often takes care of other family's children. Anya's mother had just returned home from a successful job interview -- she had been hired as a nursing home aide.

The Rev. Tommie Jackson, the pastor of Faith Tabernacle Church, consoled the family for more than an hour yesterday shortly after they discovered the dead child.

"They are devastated," he said. "I can't imagine having to go through something like this. But God gives us strength."

Jackson said that he hoped police would conduct a full investigation and wait for the coroner's report before pressing any charges against Newman.

"We need a complete investigation," he said.
Copyright 2004, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.