Service for 2-year-old Ceres boy who drowned set for next week

July 20, 2010 

UPDATE - A memorial service for a 2-year-old Ceres boy who drowned in his family's backyard pool has been scheduled for next Tuesday, July 27. The service will be held at the Victory Assembly Church in Ceres. Aureliano Valdez will be buried afterward at Ceres Cemetery.

The memorial service will be open to the public.

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CERES -- A 2-year-old boy drowned Sunday night in the family's algae-tainted backyard pool. He was discovered by rescue workers minutes after his mother reported him missing.

Monday morning, Ceres Police Department detectives began a criminal investigation into the death of Aureliano Valdez, 2, according to officer Allen McKay.

No arrests have been made, and McKay said it was "clearly an accident." However, he said any caretaker at the home at 916 Larsen Lane who was found to be negligent in the care of the toddler could face criminal charges.

McKay said there was a fence around the pool, but that the gate leading to the pool area was open when officers arrived. He said the algae in the water allowed little visibility. Police were asking the city to condemn the home because of "filth and poor sanitation," he added.

Police were called to the three-bedroom, single-story home at 7:15 p.m. Sunday after receiving a call from Florcita Valdez, 34, who said her son had been missing for about 30 minutes.

Valdez said she was baking a cake along with a friend, and her two older children, ages 14 and 8, inside her home when she noticed her son was missing. Valdez called police, who arrived within 10 minutes and conducted a search of the property and neighboring homes, McKay said.

Officers began checking the home, which is a few blocks east of Herndon Road and Pecos Avenue, and the surrounding area.

Their attention quickly turned to the pool, which takes up about two-thirds of the back yard and is guarded by a short chain-link fence that runs the length of the yard.

They began using brooms and poles to check the bottom, and the Ceres Fire Department arrived shortly thereafter. Firefighters used tools to reach the bottom and soon discovered Aureliano in the 8-foot deep end.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation was started immediately, and Aureliano was taken to a Modesto hospital, where he later died.

Valdez told a Sacramento TV station that her older children and others had been using the pool and that the gate was left unlatched. She also said her youngest son knew how to open the gate.

Valdez said she bought a less-expensive chain link fence, one without a self-latching mechanism, to save money.

The mother blamed the delay in finding Aureliano on the murkiness of the pool.

"Basically, it all comes down to the dollar amount. I couldn't afford to put in those expensive chemicals every week," Valdez told the TV station, adding that the older plaster in the pool promotes algae growth.

Valdez, who owns the house with her father, vowed to drain the pool and fill it with dirt.

The search for the toddler involved others in the neighborhood.

Misty Showen, 29, who lives two houses away, said she received a knock on the door Sunday night from someone saying that Aureliano was gone.

She said she often saw Aureliano, along with his two siblings, playing in the neighborhood with other children. She said Aureliano's older sister watched over him like "a mama hen."

Showen, along with her sister and son, began walking up the street. Others in the neighborhood also were searching.

Minutes later, she heard police focus their attention on the pool. As she headed back to her house, firefighters arrived and Aureliano soon was pulled from the pool.

"That's a baby ... someone's child. ... I can't imagine," Showen said. "You have a baby. You have a pool. I won't let my kids in a kiddie pool."

Showen said she didn't know the family.

Mark Whitehead, senior pastor at Victory of Assembly God, said Valdez and her children attended the church some time ago but had stopped going. He said he hadn't seen them in several months but dropped by Monday morning to offer support.

"They were struggling like many families these days," he said.

Monday, the home looked dilapidated.

Old toys and other household items were strewn in the back yard. In the gutter at the front of the house was a pile of old household items, including a mattress.

McKay said it's not often -- fewer than "once a month" -- that police ask the city's Code Enforcement Division to condemn a property. He said if the department finds the home uninhabitable, the family will be forced to leave immediately.

The owners are listed as Aureliano and Susana Ramos. A person answering a phone number listed for them on a property report hung up when contacted Monday.

McKay urged homeowners with pools to take great caution in making the area safe.

"If you have little kids, you have to keep the pool secure and you have to keep it clear," he said. "You just can't have little kids and have a pool that's not secure."

Any witnesses or anyone with information about the incident is urged to call Detective Derek Perry at 538-5730.

Bee online news editor Brian Clark can be reached at bclark@modbee.com or 578-2362.

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