Police: Blanco toddler suffered head trauma, sexual abuse

Fifteen-month-old Sunny Dakota Slade-Bort died Thursday morning (Jamie Petronella Facebook Photo)
Fifteen-month-old Sunny Dakota Slade-Bort died May 5 (Jamie Petronella Facebook Photo)

BLANCO, Texas (KXAN) — Newly released court documents detail the injuries a 15-month-old girl sustained prior to her death Thursday morning. The mother of the toddler and her boyfriend are now charged with injury to a child.

According to the arrest affidavit, Sunny Dakota Slade-Bort’s mother, 23-year-old Jamie Petronella, called 911 on May 3 to report that her child was unresponsive and not breathing. The toddler was found by police lying on the living room floor as the mother’s boyfriend, John Lawrence, 24, attempted to perform CPR. Emergency crews noticed the child had bruises on both sides of her mouth as well as a large “dried wound on her face.”

Petronella told police she had placed her baby in the crib that evening for about 45 minutes when she noticed her breaths were choppy before she stopped breathing. When asked about the nature of the child’s injuries, Petronella said one of her other children, a 2-year-old girl, hit the 15-month-old with a plastic chair causing her to fall on a table. Lawrence told police the large bruise on her face was because he was trying to “rub” out the bruise and claimed he pushed too hard, continued in the affidavit.

Left: JamiePetronella and John Lawrence (Blanco Police Department)
Left: JamiePetronella and John Lawrence (Blanco Police Department)

The toddler was flown to University Hospital in San Antonio for treatment. Hospital staff indicated the child had head trauma as well as a spinal injury. Doctors also noted there was evidence of sexual assault to the child. The toddler’s doctor told police she was “not in good shape,” indicating she was in “danger of dying.” The 15-month-old died two days later.

Petronella’s two other children, the 2-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy, were taken to Lawrence’s mother’s home in Canyon Lake when Sunny was taken the hospital. According to court documents, Lawrence’s mother noticed both children had bruising on their bodies. When she asked Petronella about the children’s injuries she said the boy fell off a teeter-totter. Lawrence’s mother “did not feel that the injuries were consistent with the story” and became worried about their health when the boy was lethargic and acting unusual. She called 911 and both children were taken to an emergency care clinic in New Braunfels. While there, the doctors said the boy suffered a brain bleed; he was immediately taken by medical helicopter to San Antonio. Doctors also discovered multiple bruises on the boy’s face, including a “large handprint.”

His 2-year-old sister was taken by ambulance to another hospital in San Antonio. The doctors treating the 2-year-old girl said there was evidence she was sexually abused. She also had bruises on her back and worms in her stool.

While Sunny was in the hospital, neither Petronella nor Lawrence were at the hospital, according to Lawrence’s mother.

During the investigation into Sunny’s injuries, a neighbor said she saw the children with bruises on May 3. When she asked what caused the various injuries, Petronella said Sunny’s injuries were caused by the 2-year-old and that the other children’s injuries were caused by the teeter-totter. According to CPS records, the neighbor never saw the adults be physical with the children but “only observed the continuous bruising on the children.”

Family’s CPS History

A spokesperson for CPS says the family has a history with the agency. In court filings, the agency was originally called to investigate the parents Vincent Bort and Jamie Petronella for “neglectful supervision and physical neglect” of the three children in January 2015. There were concerns the children were living in a home with no electricity or water and there was drug paraphernalia in the home. CPS investigators found human feces, urine and vomit in buckets throughout the home. Bort admitted to using drugs. A safety plan was implemented for the children and mother to live with the paternal grandparents. The mother and children received support from Family Based Safety Services for the next seven months and during that time Bort and Petronella ended their relationship. CPS records indicate Petronella “demonstrated the ability to be protective of her children.”

Two years prior, Adult Protective Services were called because Petronella and Bort were accused of using his grandmother’s—who suffers from Alzheimer’s—credit cards for large purchases without her knowledge. The investigation revealed that Petronella did not use the credit cards without the grandmother’s knowledge.

An investigator with Child Protective Services says the family was already in the middle of an active investigation when Sunny died because the 3-year-old boy suffered a broken arm on April 26. In that case, Lawrence said he picked up the boy by both arms and his elbow popped. At the hospital, Lawrence “appeared to be remorseful and was crying” when they were at the hospital with the boy. Medical staff explained to the caseworker the injury could have happened due to a “possibility due to his size in relation to the [child’s] size.” At the time, CPS said there were no concerns of marks, bruises or injuries to the other children.

Bort recently told CPS he saw bruises on Sunny when the children visited him in December. He said his son told him “John caused the bruises to Sunny” but he didn’t act on the allegations nor did he report it to anyone. Bort said he didn’t believe his son at the time.

CPS records also show Lawrence was a victim of sexual abuse and physical abuse as a child.  According to court documents, Lawrence was arrested in 2015 accused of strangling his then-girlfriend. Lawrence was admitted into a 90-day substance abuse treatment program but was reportedly kicked out because he was “out of control.”

The agency has filed the necessary paperwork to remove the children from their mother’s custody.

Authorities are still determining if charges will be upgraded now that the child has died.

Previous accusations of violence

The arrest records for the current case mention that police arrested Lawrence for assault in Austin last year. KXAN obtained a copy of the documents.

The arrest record from 2015 case states that Lawrence’s girlfriend at that time told police that they got in a fight and broke up. She reached for a list of phone numbers on the bed and scratched his face when he wouldn’t let her pick them up, according to the claims in the document.

Based on court records, that ex-girlfriend also told police he threw her onto the floor and held her down. He put his hand over her mouth and started choking her, it continues.

The records also state that the ex-girlfriend said Lawrence told her “nobody will miss you” and “I’ve killed people before.”

A grand jury later indicted Lawrence on a felony strangulation charge. KXAN also found a protective order for the ex-girlfriend ordering Lawrence not to communicate with her or come within 200 yards of her home or workplace. However, that was set to expire last June. Although police arrested Lawrence in April of last year and the grand jury indictment was filed that July, no action has taken place in the case since August, according to court records.

Neighbors in Leakey react

The town of Leakey, in the Hill Country southwest of Kerrville, was the last place that Jamie Petranella and her family lived before moving to Blanco. Thursday, we spoke to people in the town who knew the family.

Rita Reyna babysat the children a few times. Her and a friend would visit the family, noting on one occasion Sunny had a “big bruise” under one of her eyes.

Another woman told KXAN, “They’re kids, they can’t protect themselves… it hurts that someone would do that to kids, especially little kids that can’t protect themselves.”

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