Age: 22 mos.
Born: July 21, 2009
Died: May 28, 2011
Suspect in death: Karen Pena, mother
Laniece's mother was inside the apartment, in her bedroom, looking at Facebook, according to police reports. Her oldest sister, who turned 12 that day, was at Walmart picking out a birthday present with her uncle.
It was typical, some neighbors said, to see Karen Pena's children running around outside without supervision.
"The mom is never around, she always just let's them play in the parking lot, kids running around with no shoes on, in their diapers, and the 12-year-old is doing everything," neighbor Antoinette Thomas told police. "There are times I have told her, go grab them some shoes, some pants, and a diaper, and I'll change their diaper, I'll put on their shoes and stuff so they can play down here."
Sometimes, the boys threw bricks at cars buzzing down Alameda Avenue. The night before the accident, neighbor Katie Whyte saw Laniece running around outside, by herself, wearing only a diaper.
People concerned about the children's safety had called the Arapahoe County Department of Human Services twice in the 13 months prior to Laniece's death. The calls were "screened out."
In April 2010, a caller told the child-welfare division that Pena's 6-year-old daughter was allowed to visit her father's hotel room, filled with crack and prostitutes. Police were unable to find the man, so child-protective workers didn't open a case. And that July, someone called to say Pena's 2-year-old son had gone to an emergency room three or four times due to injuries. The referral did "not rise to level of abuse or neglect as defined by law," child-welfare workers said.
The van was in the apartment complex to drop off a disabled child on May 27, 2011. Several other children were still inside the van when it ran over Laniece. The driver thought it was a speed bump until she looked in the rear-view mirror and saw a child on the ground.
The child being dropped off, 14-year-old Deon McCarty, ran inside his apartment to call 911 and get his stepfather.
"She was lifeless," recalled Travis Windom, Deon's stepfather. "She was barely breathing. She was pretty much gone then."
Laniece's mother pleaded guilty to child abuse causing death and was sentenced in October to five years of probation.
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