Montana: Foster Parent Sentenced to Twenty Years for Foster Child Death

Lavonna Bird, 51, said she loved her foster child, 3-year-old Jaren Wayne Blacksmith. She’d had him in her home for about a year. But on a hot summer day, August 17, 2011, she left him in her hot car when she went into her home with her other foster children.

Lavonna Bird

Lavonna Bird, booking photo

Meanwhile, little Jaren sat in a car in 93 degree heat, and died. Bird seemed unsure as to how long he’d been there.

He was one of three foster children living in Bird’s home.

Bird has been sentenced to twenty years in prison with five years suspended. The charge was negligent homicide.

Bird’s friends and family were in the courtroom for the sentencing, and bid her farewell.

She suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure. She claims that once she arrived home that day, she got sick and fell asleep, accidentally forgetting that Jaren was still in the car.

Jaren’s cause of death was recorded as hyperthermia, ie: elevated body temperature – but it was noted that he also had fresh bruises when he passed away. One of the other foster children said Bird got mad at Jaren and slammed his head against the car’s floor and against a window. I do not know if these charges were discussed or proven in court.

When they got home from their trip to the a health agency, she left Jaren in the locked car with the windows up. She said he had been sleeping and she didn’t want to disturb him. It appeared that he tried to escape the car before he died, according to investigators.

Before she was sentenced Bird addressed the court and said: “I’m really sorry for what happened to Jaren. I loved him very much and wanted to adopt him.”

Bird had no prior criminal history, but there had been “significant allegations of child abuse” that CPS had ignored.


Hardin woman gets 20 years for 3-year-old’s death in hot car by Greg Tuttle, published February 8, 2013 in The Missoulian.

Hardin woman sentenced to jail for foster child’s death by Victoria Fregoso, published February 8, 2013 on the (Missoula, Montana) news site.

Hardin: Boy who died in hot car may have been beaten by foster mom – AP, published August 23, 2011 in The Missoulian.

Hardin woman pleads not guilty to chlid’s death in hot car – AP, Published September 9, 2011 in The Missoulian.

Question: Was the sentence fair?

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  1. concerned grandparent says

    DHHS should have been accountable also…They are supposed to be making regular visits to these foster parents homes and they do not. She should spend life in prison and she also has almighty God that she will have to answer to.

  2. Kyle says

    No. She should have gotten life. And I agree with James, the ignorant social worker should be held accountable as well.

  3. Al says

    No, the sentence was not appropriate (“fair”), that is, not in proportion to the severity of her crime, which was not premeditated or with malice aforethought.
    Intentional/premeditated (“1st degree”) murders typically get much shorter sentences.

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