By Trevor Morgan & Caleb Lunetta
Veronda Gladney, the mother of the 7-year-old girl who was killed after falling out of a car window, has been charged with two counts of child abuse and one count of manslaughter, according to the District Attorney’s office.
According to the official felony complaint, Gladney was charged with one count of child abuse resulting in death, one count of child abuse under circumstance or conditions other than great bodily harm or death, and one count of vehicular manslaughter. Gladney pleaded not guilty.
Gladney’s boyfriend, Michael Branch, has also pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor charge of child abuse. Both Branch and Gladney were in the 1999 Lincoln Navigator when Gladney’s daughter, Tanunekakah, fell out of the rear window. Gladney was driving the Navigator and Branch was a passenger when Tanunekakah was killed.
The details surrounding the incident remain unclear, but California Highway Patrol officials said on Wednesday that one of their leading theories is that Tanunekakah was not secured by a seatbelt, car seat or booster, the latter of which is required by state law for any child under the age of 8.
Officials also speculated that Tanunekakah crawled to the back of the vehicle and fell out of its rear window, which may have been unlocked or broken, before falling out and being struck by multiple vehicles.
“The little girl fell out of the vehicle and I don’t think the parents maybe even realized it at first,” said Officer Josh Greengard, spokesman for the CHP Newhall Office. “But CHP did make contact with the mom and her boyfriend after they had returned to the scene.”
Tanunekakah was killed on the northbound I-5, just north of Weldon Canyon Road at approximately 3:40 a.m. on Saturday. The 9-1-1 call that initially reported her death came from one of the drivers who hit her. The caller reported they had struck an unknown stationary object that was blocking the roadway, according to a CHP report.
Gladney’s next court date is on July 13 at the San Fernando courthouse. Branch’s next court date is on July 27 at the Santa Clarita courthouse. If convicted, Gladney could face up to 16 years in prison.