Man accused of child abuse returns to court

California Highway Patrol officers on an empty northbound Interstate 5 at Weldon Canyon Road after a pedestrian was struck and killed on the freeway Saturday morning. Dan Watson/The Signal

A man who was accused of child abuse following the freeway death of his girlfriend’s 7-year-old daughter earlier this month returned to court on Wednesday. 

Michael Branch, 39, was arrested on July 2 after he was believed to have been in a vehicle traveling through the Newhall Pass when his girlfriend’s daughter fell out of the car’s back window.  

The 7-year-old was reportedly killed after being struck by multiple vehicles on Interstate 5. Branch and the girl’s mother, Veronda Gladney, 28, are believed to have not noticed for some time that the little girl was missing.  

At the time of the incident, one of the theories from law enforcement as to how the girl fell out of the window was that she was not secured by a seat belt, car seat or booster, the latter of which is required by state law for any child under the age of 8. She is believed, with both adults sitting up front, to have climbed into the back seat of their 1999 Lincoln Navigator. 

At approximately 3:40 a.m., investigators believe the child pushed or fell into the vehicle’s back window, which was broken and/or unlocked, causing her to fall out of the moving vehicle.  

The couple returned to the scene some time later and were arrested in connection to the girl’s death.  

Gladney, as the driver of the vehicle and the girl’s biological parent, was charged with two counts of child abuse and one count of manslaughter. She is scheduled to appear in court next on Aug. 18 for a prelim setting.  

Branch was also charged, but with a single count of misdemeanor child abuse. He is next scheduled to appear on Sept. 21 for a pretrial hearing. During a pretrial hearing, a judge determines if there is enough evidence in a case for it to be taken to trial.  

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