Grandmother guilty of manslaughter

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THE Ruatoki grandmother who smoked synthetic cannabis while her eight-month-old grandson slept in a sweltering car for up to three hours has been found guilty of manslaughter.

Donna Parangi, 48, had pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter of baby Isaiah Neil by depriving him of the necessaries of life and failing to take reasonable steps to protect him. The trial in to the case, held at the Rotorua High Court, closed yesterday. The jury returned this morning started deliberations at 9.30am and after little more than an hour they came back with a guilty verdict.

Parangi will be sentenced at the Tauranga High Court on a date still to be determined. Isaiah's parents, Lacey Marie Te Whetu and Shane Neil had previously pleaded guilty to manslaughter and would also be sentenced at a future date.

During the six-day trial, the Crown case was that Parangi, with Isaiah’s mother, was responsible for the care of her grandson and as a result should be held accountable for causing his death.

But in her closing address defence lawyer Julie-Anne Kincade said Parangi was a loving grandmother who helped to care for her grandchildren but had not assumed the role of a parent on the day Isaiah died because both of his parents were at home with him at the time of the incident.

“He was brought into the house at some time and it cannot be said that he was in Donna Parangi’s care … This is not a case where a baby is forgotten in the car, not for a moment, not by Donna Parangi.

Isaiah died on November 2, 2015, after he was left in a car for more than three hours at the house

in Ruatoki he shared with his parents, siblings and grandparents.

He had travelled in the car from Ruatoki to Kawerau with his mother, Lacey Te Whetu, and Parangi so the women could buy synthetic cannabis. When the trio returned home at about 12.30pm, Parangi made the call to leave the baby asleep in the car while they went into the house and consumed the drugs they had purchased.

After consuming the drugs, Te Whetu and Isaiah’s dad, Shane Neil, retired to their bedroom while Parangi brought in the groceries from the car and performed chores including the laundry.

Ms Kincaid said Parangi had opened the doors of the car and remembers that she could see the baby while she was in the laundry sorting out the clothes.

She said after completing the washing, Parangi remembered hearing the baby cry and, thinking he was with his parents, she went for a lie down in the living room.

While she was sleeping, Parangi’s two other grandchildren returned home from kohanga reo and their father greeted them at the van. At this time, Neil noticed his son was still in the back of the car and retrieved the baby, noting that he was hot, sweaty and lifeless.

He took the children inside and placed his eight-month-old son in bed with his mother. Three hours later, Te Whetu woke up and, realising her son was not responsive, called 111.

When Parangi woke up, Te Whetu and Neil were performing CPR on the baby. Ms Kincaid said Isaiah was not in Parangi’s “actual care” when he died and she had laid down after assuming he was with his parents.

“She was, and is, a loving nana. Donna Parangi is a hardworking machine operator and is not guilty of this charge of culpable homicide.”

However, Crown prosecutor Anna Pollett said Parangi had shared the day-to-day care of her grandchildren with their mother and as a result she had failed to protect Isaiah.

She had consumed drugs with Te Whetu and, even though she knew the effect the synthetic material had on her and her daughter, had failed to check on Isaiah.

Ms Pollett also said the Crown believed that the windows were up in the car as nobody apart from Parangi remembers seeing them down. The temperature inside would have reached 45 degrees Celsius within 45 to 60 minutes.

She said Isaiah had died of hyperthermia, or heat stroke, as a result of being trapped in the car.

The jury in the case had retired yesterday to consider its verdict and had not reached a decision before the Beacon’s press time.

karla.akuhata@whakatanebeacon.co.nz

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