Updated at 4:15 p.m., Oct. 16, 2014
A woman whose two toddlers drowned in a swimming pool at a friend’s home near Mount Helix while she slept was sentenced Thursday to four years in prison.
Tassie Anne Behrens, 28, pleaded guilty in July to a pair of felony child endangerment charges.
In denying Behrens probation, Judge Laura Halgren said the defendant did not plead guilty to causing the death of her children, but that she put them in a very dangerous situation by having them stay of the home of a friend, Larry Dangelo, where marijuana was being grown and wires were exposed. Prosecutors said a dismantled honey oil lab was downstairs in a garage.
In sentencing Behrens to prison, Halgren said that the child victims were “particularly vulnerable,” that the defendant was under the influence of methamphetamine when the accident happened, and that Behrens initially lied to police about where the accident took place.
Deputy District Attorney Chantal de Mauregne said that during the night, the defendant’s 2-year-old son, Jason, woke her up and asked where his 16- month-old sister Harley was, but Behrens fell back asleep.
The children were found in the pool the morning of May 13, 2013.
Behrens ran screaming to the pool and pulled them out, and the children were rushed to Grossmont Hospital, where Harley was declared dead. Jason was transferred to Rady Children’s Hospital, where he died.
Carter “Corky” Bennett, who lived in a motorhome on Dangelo’s property, testified that he introduced Behrens, whom he’d known for eight or nine years, to Dangelo when she needed a place to stay and “they hit it off.”
Bennett said she’d been staying at the house for about two weeks before the children drowned. He also said Dangelo played with the children and “paid attention to them.”
Hubbert said Behrens told him she stayed at Dangelo’s residence “on-and- off” for about one week before her children’s death.
Before sentencing today, defense attorney Tom Carnessale — arguing for probation — told the judge that Behrens, a meth addict, was not happy with her children having to live in various homes and even thought about going to court and asking about foster care.
Carnesale said the children was healthy and not abused.
Sheriff’s Detective Norman Hubbert testified at an earlier preliminary hearing that Behrens first told him the tragedy took place at a mobile home park in Spring Valley. But when the detective told her that deputies went to the house at 10011 Sunset Ave. rented by Dangelo, she conceded that was where the children died.
Deputies found about five dozen marijuana plants in the basement.
According to the detective, Behrens took her children swimming the night of May 12, 2013. She said they all went to bed around 9 p.m. — the children on a couch and she in a bedroom with Dangelo.
Hubbert testified that Behrens told him that she saw her children on the couch when she used the restroom about 4 a.m., but four hours later, Jason came in and asked about Harley. Behrens told the detective she fell back asleep, and neither child was there when she awoke.
“She went out to the back patio that overlooks the back yard and saw the children face-down in the pool,” Hubbert said.
Dangelo, 45, pleaded guilty to making hash oil and is awaiting sentencing Nov. 4.
—City News Service