FULLERTON — The parents of a 4-month-old boy bitten to death by a starving pet rat while the family slept in their station wagon were charged Monday with involuntary manslaughter.
Meanwhile, Orange County child protection authorities said they had received five complaints of child endangerment during the past three years against the parents, including one complaint 48 hours before Steven J. Giguere Jr. died.
The parents, Steven and Kathyleen Giguere, who are homeless and unemployed, face a maximum of four years in prison if convicted. The couple had called police Thursday when they discovered the body of their baby, who had bled to death from bites from the rat.
In a separate development at another courthouse Monday, county officials sought temporary custody of the couple's 3 1/2-year-old daughter, Karissa. A custody hearing was set for today.
Officials of the Orange County Child Services agency said the last complaint of endangerment against the Gigueres was made by the boy's grandparents, Dennis and Dianne Giguere, who said Monday they believed that the couple's two children were in danger because the parents abused drugs and alcohol and lived in a filthy car.
However, county workers did not know where to find the couple and could not investigate the grandparents' complaint.
Gene Howard, director of the child protection agency, said his department acted appropriately and did everything it could within the law to protect the Gigueres' child.
"The laws have become much more restrictive," Howard said. In the past, children could be removed from their parents in similar situations "but now you can't anymore."
He said there was no evidence of physical abuse of the children and that despite their poverty it appeared that the children had enough food, shelter, clothing and medical treatment.
Dr. Richard Evans, chief of veterinary services for the County Health Care Agency, said the rat, named Homer, had been starved for weeks. Evans, who performed a necropsy on the animal, said it "was devoid of fat and 30% of its muscle mass was wasted away."
"It was starved," Evans said.