Babysitter charged in connection with the death of a toddler in her care

Boy was run over while playing in driveway

SAN DIEGO - A babysitter pleaded not guilty Thursday to a charge of felony child abuse in connection with the death of a toddler in her care.

Laurie Valdez-Torres was charged more than eight months after the 16-month-old boy died.

According to authorities, Valdez-Torres was watching children at her Normal Heights home when young Manny went onto the driveway just as a family member was backing out a car. Authorities said the boy was crushed under the wheels of the car.

He was taken to the hospital but died a short time later.

The driver was never charged in the case.

In court Thursday, Judge David Szumowski did not support the prosecutor's request that bail for Valdez-Torres be set at $100,000.

Calling the child's death "tragic," Szumowski said because Valdez-Torres has appeared for court, there was no reason to send her to jail. She was ordered to report to the Las Colinas Jail for booking on Sunday.

"I'm frustrated because you get to go home with your daughter, and I don't get to go home with my son," said the toddler's mother, Dahlia Zuniga. "I'm sad and I'm mad, and I feel like the driver should be charged as well. Both of them, both of them should be charged in my son's death."

More than a dozen of Zuniga's family members wore T-shirts and buttons with Manny's picture on them that read "Justice for Manny."

"He was my little angel. We miss him dearly and we love him. This changed our whole life," said Zuniga.

Manny's father, Manuel Mercado, questioned the justice system.

"It's unbelievable, you know? How is she not even in custody yet with the charges she's got? And not only that, the driver that ran over my son didn't even get charged, so, I don't understand how the system works," said Mercado.

Valdez-Torres returns to court in October for a preliminary hearing.

If convicted, she faces up to six years in prison.

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