Couple accused of injury to a child in Blanco had previous history with CPS

A 15-month-old girl has died in what Blanco's police chief is calling the worst child abuse case he has seen in years.

The child was put on life support Tuesday evening until her biological father removed her this morning.

Child Protective Services had previous contact with the child's mother Jaime Petronella and her boyfriend as well as the child's biological father. In January of 2015, Petronella and her three children moved in with the children's father's grandparents after the children were found in a state of physical neglect.
               
Family Based Safety Services were discontinued in August of 2015 after Petronella completed her requirements.

Then, last week, CPS was called to Petronella's apartment in Blanco after her 3-year-old son was brought to the hospital with a broken arm. A case worker met with the other children and saw no other indications of abuse at the time.

Jaime Petronella and John Lawrence are in the Blanco County Jail each with a bond set at $1 million for injury to a child.

“We have a considerable bond and do not feel that they will be a flight risk at this time from jail,” said Blanco Police Chief Mike Ritchey. 

Lawrence and Petronella were arrested after Petronella's one-year-old girl was found unresponsive in her Blanco Oaks apartment.

The couple told police the injuries were caused by Petronella's two year old child, but police said they never believed the couple's story.

“The bruising was too widespread. You would see where the person took that strike was bruised, the bruising was all over the face, so it couldn't have been caused that way,” Ritchey said. 

Ritchey said Lawrence and Petronella were a flight risk because, after the baby girl was taken to the hospital, they dropped off the other two children with Lawrence's parents and returned to their apartment instead of going to the hospital.

“We did fear that he would flee because he did come back to town without the children and we felt like he was getting ready to pack up and leave,” said Ritchey. 

Lawrence's parents called police after seeing injuries to Petronella’s two-year-old girl and three-year-old boy. Both children were then hospitalized for their injuries.

A doctor at the hospital reported wounds to the three children that could be caused by sexual assault. There was also bruising in several stages of healing on the children's bodies.

Neighbors at the Blanco Oaks Apartments told police they believed something suspicious was going on at the couple's apartment.

“The neighbor's had said they had heard the kids crying fairly often, no screaming, but they did see some bruising and that's the time that we should be called,” Ritchey said.

CPS filed removal papers Thursday to place the two surviving children with a relative.

“I know that the two-year-old female, they said, could be released at any time, but I know they were not going to release her because they had not found a responsible relative to take them as of yet,” said Ritchey.

The biological father of the children, Vincent Bort, will not be granted custody at this time because he has a previous criminal record and did not participate in Family Based Safety Services in 2015.

Several electronic devices and DNA evidence was removed from the couple's Blanco apartment when a search warrant was executed Wednesday.

“The Texas Rangers served that search warrant on the apartment where this initiated and they did take several bags of evidence that they will be submitting into the lab,” said Ritchey.

Lawrence also has a pending case for domestic violence in Travis County from 2015. An arrest affidavit from that charge states Lawrence tried to strangle his ex-girlfriend.

The Blanco County District Attorney said injury to a child carries the same punishment as murder and that's why the charges were not changed after the baby girl died. If evidence of sexual assault is uncovered the DA said it's possible more charges could be filed.

Read One-year-old Blanco girl found with critical injuries taken off life support

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