accidents

NEWS Coroner can’t rule out homicide or accident in suspicious Blackhawk drowning of mother and 4-year-old daughter

Coroner can't rule out homicide or accident in suspicious Blackhawk drowning of mother and 4-year-old daughter

BLACKHAWK — A mother and daughter who drowned after arranging for the girl to meet her wealthy father for the first time left many key questions unanswered months after waiting for autopsy results.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Ikechi Ogan ruled that he could not determine whether the deaths of Llaneth Chavez, 31, and her daughter, Malaya, 4, were an accident or a homicide, leaving a major question mark over what happened last February 12 that resulted in the double drowning. They died shortly after Chavez took Malaya from his home in Hollister to East Ridge Court in Black Hawk so the girl could meet her father for the first time – who had been Keep it a secret from her family.

Aside from finding the cause of death — drowning — Orgen’s task is to choose one of four possible means: two, suicide and natural causes, obviously don’t apply. That leaves homicides and accidents. Organ’s verdict, pending, is a relatively rare outcome that only occurs when it cannot be undone in more than one way.

But Organ did, and Chavez suffered multiple blunt force injuries, including bruises to his back, left hip, abdomen and upper chest. He noted that the autopsy found no evidence of head injuries or strangulation. The coroner’s report said Malaya had a faint red abrasion, half an inch by half an inch, but no other superficial damage.

Authorities have been investigating Chavez and Malaya for potential criminal activity since the day their bodies were discovered. But evidence beyond a reasonable doubt can be tricky in the absence of witnesses or clear accounts of their deaths.

In an interview, Neama Rahmani, chief executive of the Los Angeles-based West Coast trial law firm, compared the Blackhawk drowning to the 2008 indictment of Casey Anthony. The girl stood up after the defense argued the girl accidentally drowned in the family swimming pool.

“Murder and accidents are very different; generally, people don’t go to jail for accidents unless there’s some kind of criminal negligence,” Rahmani said. “However, I will say that a child drowning in a swimming pool is one thing, but an adult and a child drowning in a swimming pool, we obviously don’t see that very often. If I were a law enforcement officer, I would be very skeptical.”

The deaths of Chavez and Malaya have been shrouded in mystery and suspicion since around 3 p.m. on Feb. 12, when Malaya’s father called 911 to report finding the mother and daughter in their backyard swimming pool no response. He claims he left them behind when he went in to shower and then found them dead or dying in the pool when he came out.

The newspaper did not name the father because he has not been arrested or charged in connection with either death. But police notified the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office of the incident at the time of the incident and opened a suspicious death investigation, which is still ongoing, authorities said.

During interviews with Chavez’s family, authorities were told that Malaya’s father paid Chavez a monthly stipend on the condition that she keep her distance from him. The same goes for his daughter until 12 February.

Malaya’s father told police he and Chavez briefly dated when he was the manager of a gas station where she worked – a chain owned by his family. He said at the time he feared his family would not accept Chavez because of “cultural differences,” but agreed to let Malaya into his life for the first time after his mother died in December 2021.

So they arranged an ice cream outing. Chavez and Malaya arrived at his home around 1:45 p.m., and he said he took them to the backyard before going to shower. He said after taking a shower, he called Chavez on his cell phone, told her he was getting dressed, and went out when she didn’t answer the phone. Just then, he saw the two of them, motionless, floating in the pool. He said Chavez was face down; Malaya was face up, he said.

He said he ran to the pool, jumped in and pulled them out one at a time, starting with Malaya and calling 911. A dispatcher instructs him on how to perform CPR on the girl.

When police contacted Chavez’s brother, they grew suspicious. He told investigators that both Chavez and Malaya were afraid of water and could not swim, and that he suspected they would not go near a swimming pool.

On top of that, police found evidence that Malaya’s father had deleted text messages between him and Chavez, and he claimed the only surveillance in the home was a RING doorbell camera that streamed in real time. But responders noticed several security cameras inside and outside the home, and the footage was subsequently searched as part of the investigation. Police did not say whether they found any valuable video footage.

Anyone with information about this incident should contact the Sheriff’s Investigative Unit at 925-313-2600. Tips can be emailed to tips@so.cccounty.us. Anonymous callers can leave a message at 866-846-3592.

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