published Sunday, May 11th, 2014

Woman charged in toddler's Fentanyl overdose death

LaDonald Bryant Sr. never had a doubt that charges would come against Jaquelne Escareno in the March death of his 23-month-old great-grandson.

"When you live as long as I have," said Bryant, 73, "you learn to see things coming, and I knew this was coming from the minute I heard about what happened."

Escareno, 50, was booked for criminally negligent homicide Saturday in the drug-overdose death of toddler Demarcus Bryant. The arrest came four weeks after a pathologist found that a lethal amount of Fentanyl entered Demarcus' system through a pain patch placed on the boy's right mid-back.

The patch, the medical examiner ruled, was placed there by someone other than the child, who was three weeks shy of his second birthday when he died.

That patch, Bryant said, "didn't get there on its own."

Escareno had been trusted by the boy's mother, her niece Sarah Bryant, to watch Demarcus while Sarah worked long hours at Volkswagen.

Escareno didn't have a perfect past. She pleaded guilty to prostitution three times, most recently in 1998. She faced theft charges and was charged several times with passing worthless checks.

But those offenses were in the past, and day cares are pricey. Plus, the house where Escareno lived at 7655 Boriss Drive is located just off Bonny Oaks Drive in close proximity to Volkswagen. And it has an elaborate swing set in the backyard.

Certainly, no parent expects disaster to strike when she leaves her child with a family member.

But sometime between 10:30 p.m. March 21 and 7:30 a.m. the next day, disaster did strike. The medical examiner's report said Escareno found Demarcus dead in his playpen. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide.

Fentanyl is a prescription narcotic typically only used to treat children with chronic or intractable pain, local pediatrician Dr. Allen Coffman said.

During his short life, Demarcus' health problems consisted only of a runny nose and a yeast infection, the autopsy report shows.

Demarcus was buried at Greenwood Cemetery on March 31. He left two sisters behind.

Instead of helping Demarcus blow out a pair of birthday candles on April 12, his family instead mourned his death, wondering how something so tragic could happen to someone so innocent and how a family member could be involved.

At 23 months, not a whole lot differentiated Demarcus from other kids his age, Bryant said of his great-grandson.

The boy laughed, cried, played and was learning to walk and talk like most toddlers, but it was only the beginning for a child with his entire life ahead of him.

Chattanooga police did not respond Saturday to inquiries about the investigation and what findings led Escareno's charges.

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

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