Note: This story has been updated. That information can be found here: High Cash Bond Ordered For Couple Charged In Death Of 4-Year-Old Child
SAWYER COUNTY -- Felony charges including homicide, physical abuse, and chronic neglect have been filed against a woman and her significant other following law enforcement’s investigation into the death of a 4-year-old child in Sawyer County.
Domenic Falkner and Samantha Smith have been charged criminally in Sawyer County Circuit Court following law enforcement’s investigation into the death of the 4-year-old child.
Falkner is charged with Class A Felony First Degree Intentional Homicide, Class C Felony Physical Abuse of a Child-Repeated Acts Causing Great Bodily Harm, and Class B Felony Chronic Neglect of a Child - Consequence is Death.
Smith is charged with Class C Felony Physical Abuse of a Child-Repeated Acts Causing Great Bodily Harm, and Class B Felony Chronic Neglect of a Child - Consequence is Death.
On July 28, 2021, Emergency Medical Services responded to an address in the City of Hayward regarding a report of a 4-year-old child not being able to wake up. A criminal complaint filed against Falkner and Smith in Sawyer County Circuit Court states that the child was diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy at birth.
Medical records reviewed by law enforcement described the child as non-ambulatory, non-verbal, and immobile. The child utilized a specialized wheelchair and received nutrition through a feeding tube.
[Zoey Chafer; photos submitted by family]
At the time of the child’s death, the Sawyer County Coroner withdrew a sample of the child’s blood for testing. The criminal complaint states that results of that testing showed the presence of alcohol in the child’s system at a level of .572%.
Due to that discovery, the child’s body was exhumed, and an autopsy was performed by the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office. The cause of death was ruled to be Acute Ethanol Toxicity with the manner of death being homicide.
The Medical Examiner’s Office stated: “The presence of ethanol in a non-ambulatory child is consistent with intentional administration by another. The level of ethanol found in her pre-embalmed body would be a lethal level in non-chronic users and be lethal in a child this
age. The presence of ethanol in the subscapular hematoma may represent prior administration. The abrasions, contusions, and healing fractures in this non-ambulatory child are also concerning for non-accidental trauma.”
Falkner and Smith were both interviewed by law enforcement, and the criminal complaint filed against them states that they confirmed they were the only people in the home in the night or early morning hours prior to the child’s death. They also allegedly confirmed that they took care of the child’s feeding tube, providing nutrition and hydration when she was in their home.
Smith allegedly stated that she was typically the person who administered medication to the child. During the course of their investigation, authorities discovered that Falkner was an approved caregiver for the child through Sawyer County Human Services, and received payments from CLTC.
Falkner moved into the child’s residence with Smith in August 2020. The criminal complaint filed against Falkner and Smith states that fact is significant because medical records for the child prior to that time show no documentation of a history of broken bones or bruising with no known family history of broken bones.
The criminal complaint states that also in August 2020, law enforcement had received a report from the child’s father indicating that when the child and the child’s sibling had arrived at the father’s residence after being in Falkner and Smith’s care, the child had facial bruising and the sibling had bruising on one arm that resembled a handprint.
Medical records for the child were subsequently reviewed by law enforcement and revealed that on two different medical visits in October 2020, the child was diagnosed with bone fractures, bruising, and swelling. In November 2020, while at a follow-up visit, subsequent x-rays revealed a new bone fracture.
On December 15, 2020, at another medical visit, a skeletal survey revealed multiple new healing fractures.
In January 2021, the child was taken to a different medical facility, according to the criminal complaint, for care for swelling in the child’s limbs, and x-rays revealed new bone fractures.
Law enforcement also learned that in April 2021, Hayward area school system employees noted and photographed bruising on the child. The child was taken to Hayward Area Memorial Hospital for medical care following that, and medical records confirmed the presence of facial bruising.
In May 2021, the child was again taken to Hayward Area Memorial Hospital and additional bone fractures were discovered.
In June 2021, the child was taken to Mayo for reported neck pain. Medical personnel discovered multiple new bone fractures.
On July 12, 2021, the child was brought to Mayo due to facial swelling and medical personnel noted facial and cranial bruising and swelling.
The complaint also states that during the course of the child’s medical care, genetic testing had been conducted to determine if there was a genetic reason for the child to have sustained broken bones, and the testing did not find any genetic basis for the broken bones.
The child’s medical records were reviewed by various doctors who had provided care to the child as well as by an independent child abuse expert. The criminal complaint states that these experts determined that the records confirmed that the child was the victim of child abuse.
At the time of this post online circuit court records do not list any details as to bond conditions for either Falkner or Smith, however, they are both scheduled to appear in Sawyer County Circuit Court on March 23, 2022, regarding the charges filed against them.
Online jail confinement records indicate that Falkner has been in the custody of the Sawyer County Jail since March 1, 2022, on a cash bond, and Smith has been in the custody of the Sawyer County Jail since March 4, 2022, on a cash bond.
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Pursuant to the direction of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, as found in Supreme Court Rule 20:3.6, Trial Publicly, you are advised that a charge is merely an accusation and that a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.