YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — An assistant prosecutor said a mother being sentenced on a child endangering charge after her toddler son found and shot himself with a loaded gun needed to serve some prison time to deter others from being careless with guns in their home.
Michael Rich admitted that Zulimar Alicea Vazquez, 23, of McBride Street, was very remorseful but he added the circumstances where her 3-year-old son managed to get ahold of a gun March 8 inside their East Side apartment are “alarming.”
Vazquez received a one-year prison sentence from Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge R. Scott Krichbaum Tuesday for the shooting, in which her child was first taken to St. Elizabeth Health Center before being flown by helicopter to Akron Children’s Hospital. The child has recovered, Rich said.
Rich said the gun the child used belonged to the brother of Vazquez, Luis Vazquez, 21, who was also indicted on a child endangering charge. He was not taken into custody until last month and was arraigned Dec. 21. He remains free on bail pending a Jan. 31 trial.
The child endangering charge Vazquez pleaded guilty to is a third-degree felony, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison.
Rich said a police investigation showed that Luis Vazquez had two guns in the home — the handgun the boy shot himself with and a semiautomatic rifle and that a police investigation showed the boy touched the guns at least one other time.
On the day he was shot, the boy followed his mother into a bedroom where the handgun was on a nightstand, Rich said, and shot himself in the stomach. Rich said the gun is red, which made it more like a toy for the boy.
“It was very enticing for a child to see that kind of weapon,” Rich said.
Rich said Vazquez needed to go to prison to show that there are consequences for not properly storing weapons when children are around.
“It’s parenting 101,” Rich said. “A child should not be around that.”
Defense attorney Tom Zena said his client has no criminal record, and an investigation by the county Children Services Board showed she was an excellent mother until the child shot himself. Zena said Vazquez did not see the child follow her into the other room before she heard a bang.
“Her son said, ‘Mommy, I’m hurt,'” Zena said. “She just never saw [the gun.]”
Through an interpreter, Vazquez said she misses her son, who has been given to his father since the shooting.
“The only thing I ask of you is I want my child,” Vazquez said. “Please take into consideration that since this has happened it has been very painful to not have my son with me.”
“I never thought an accident like this would have ever occurred, especially with my son,” Vazquez said. “I never would’ve put my son in danger because that’s the thing I love most in this life.”
Judge Krichbaum said the case is a tough one because it is the kind of case where people ask a judge to do favors rather than follow the law. Judge Krichbaum said that under the law, Vazquez was negligent, but he said it was more her inaction that caused her child to be hurt rather than her own actions.
A gun in the home, Judge Krichbaum said, “imposes on you a duty to protect that child and you failed in that regard. You failed miserably.”
Under the law, Judge Krichbaum said the shooting was something that should have never happened, but “it was your fault that it did,” he told her.
Vazauez received credit for 17 days served in jail while awaiting the disposition of her case.