Zander Martino was left for dead.
Authorities allege the toddler’s father beat him — possibly with a hammer — and left the 33-month-old in bed at the family’s downtown Las Vegas home. Zander’s parents waited at least eight hours before calling for help, police said.
By the time paramedics arrived on the morning of July 10, Zander was dead. He had severe bruising on his abdomen and “a belly full of blood,” according to a Las Vegas police report.
The Clark County Department of Family Services had investigated Zander’s parents for possible abuse or neglect several times starting in December 2004.
When a child protective services worker interviewed 3-year-old Hailey Martino after Zander’s death, Hailey said, “Dad hit Zander with a hammer last night,” the report noted.
Hailey said her father put the hammer in the backyard, according to police, who found it.
The coroner’s office ruled Zander’s death a homicide Wednesday, and police arrested his father, 25-year-old Richard “Todd” Martino, and Martino’s 22-year-old girlfriend, Brandi Reeves, also known as Brandi Byrd. Authorities booked them into the county jail on charges of murder by child abuse.
Martino and Reeves told police they weren’t responsible for Zander’s death.
Martino said he returned home from his job at Hansen Mechanical about noon on July 9. He later left for a doctor’s appointment but returned about 3 p.m. Zander and his three siblings, ages 3, 1 and about 1 month old, were there when Martino got home.
Martino told police that after dinner, about 7 p.m., he threw Zander onto a bed about three or four times.
“Stop, Daddy, stop,” Zander told Martino, according to the police report.
Martino told police he then went to bed and that Reeves checked on Zander about 2 a.m. because she heard him horsing around. Martino said Reeves later told him Zander had fallen out of bed.
Martino later left for work but said he called home about 8 a.m. to have Reeves check on Zander. Reeves found Zander in bed and not breathing, so she called 911.
“He’s cold,” she told a 911 operator. “He’s dead weight right now.”
The operator told Reeves to give Zander CPR. But Reeves said she needed to attend to her crying newborn and walked away from the phone, according to the police report.
When Reeves returned, the 911 dispatcher told her to begin CPR “as soon as possible,” which Reeves did until paramedics arrived.
Zander is one of 19 children who died in 2007 whose families had some history with child protective services, according to state records.
Zander’s death was preceded by the “suspicious” July 5 death of a 6-month-old infant in Boulder City, Alyssa Jenks, Boulder City police Deputy Chief John Chase said. The state reported that Alyssa died from head injuries “inflicted by another person.”
The child welfare agency reported that Alyssa was left in the care of a relative while her parents were running errands. Her mother returned home and found her unconscious.
Boulder City police are investigating Alyssa’s death but haven’t arrested anyone, Chase said.
As in Zander’s case, the Department of Family Services had investigated Alyssa’s family for suspected abuse or neglect.
Of the 19 children who died in Southern Nevada whose families had contact with child protective services, only Zander and Alyssa appeared to have died as a result of abuse, according to state records. The other deaths were from natural causes or as a result of accidents, the records state.
Whether some of the deaths may have been the result of neglect is unclear.
In one incident, 5-year-old Amir Grace Green died in an accidental house fire on Feb. 9. At the time, family services officials were providing support and protective services, the state reported.
In another case, 3-month-old Hayden Meyer drowned May 3 at her home. Child protective services had investigated the family four times for abuse or neglect and found three complaints to be unfounded, the state reported.
The fourth accusation was under investigation at the time of Hayden’s death.
Police are not investigating either death, because they were ruled accidental.
William Grimm, senior attorney with the Oakland-based nonprofit National Center for Youth Law, said the recent deaths show the county’s child welfare system is still mired in problems under its new director, Thomas Morton, who was put in charge in July 2006.
“It doesn’t seem to have improved, even though the head of the agency has changed and more resources have been put into it,” Grimm said.
Last year, the National Center for Youth Law filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the county on behalf of abused and neglected children.
Critics say Zander’s case is a prime example of how failures of the child welfare system can have deadly consequences.
Child protective services pulled Zander and his siblings from the family’s home in December 2004 after Zander’s mother abused him, authorities said. He and his siblings were returned to their father’s custody in April.
Two weeks before he died, Zander and his siblings had been back in protective custody while the county investigated an injury to Zander.
Family Court Hearing Master Frank Sullivan returned the children to Martino’s custody June 28, at the recommendation of county workers, because the injuries didn’t appear to be caused by abuse, officials said.
Morton defended the county’s decisions. He said the children were initially returned to the father in April, because their mother was the first abuser of Zander. The court returned Zander to his father last month because the household was deemed safe, Morton said.