Merced woman charged in foster child's pool incident


Foster son nearly drowned; prosecutors allege inattention.

By VICTOR A. PATTON - vpatton@mercedsunstar.com

A 44-year-old woman has been charged with felony child endangerment in the April 2010 case of a 4-year-old foster child who nearly drowned in her swimming pool.

Merced County prosecutors say foster parent Wendy Ford should have been more attentive when caring for the special-needs foster child, Dexter Xavier Dixon, at her home in the 1500 block of West 20th Street. Merced police say they believe the child was riding a tricycle around the pool and fell in.

When police and paramedics responded, the boy was unconscious without a pulse and not breathing. The boy was in a coma after the accident, but survived and is recovering. Ford was scheduled to appear in Merced County Superior Court on Feb. 27, but didn't show up for the hearing. Judge Carol Ash subsequently issued a $10,000 bench warrant for Ford's arrest. Ford was contacted by the Sun-Star on Thursday about the case, but declined comment.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Rob Carroll said prosecutors reviewed the case and filed the charges based on numerous factors. For example, Carroll said a gate at Ford's swimming pool wasn't secured and the child was apparently left unattended.

Witnesses also told police that children had been seen running around unsupervised at Ford's home. "We just felt she should have been watching this child better," Carroll said.

According to a police report, the child was placed in the home by Approachable Foster Family Agency -- a Merced nonprofit that provides services to Merced County Child Protective Services.
The state licenses, supervises and oversees private foster family agencies such as Approachable Foster Family Agency. Merced County Child Protective Services can place children using the services of foster family agencies like that agency.

Officials with the agency told police the home had last been inspected by their agency on May 22, 2009, more than year before the near-drowning incident, according to the Merced police report.

Civil suit also pending

Franklin Vincent, Approachable Foster Family Agency's executive director, couldn't be reached by the Sun-Star's deadline Thursday. The boy's mother has filed a civil lawsuit in Merced County Superior Court against the state, Approachable Foster Family Agency, Merced County and Ford seeking undisclosed damages for the child's injuries.
In the police report, officers said a wrought iron gate outside the kitchen door and leading to the swimming pool was standing wide open. Police said there was no lock on the gate and it didn't appear the gate could be secured.
A chain-link fence surrounded the property in the back yard, with a gate on the west side, according to the report. That gate was also standing wide open and wasn't secured by any locking mechanism, police said.

On the northwest side of the chain-link fence, there was another gate secured with a lock and chain. Still, police said there was enough slack for the gate to be pulled open enough for someone to slip through and enter the back yard.
Darmahn Dixon, the boy's father, said the child is back with his biological mother. Dixon said his son suffered brain damage from the near drowning, but is back in school.
"He's blessed. It's a miracle," Dixon said, "He's working on living a normal life."
If convicted, Ford faces a maximum of six years in prison.