A foster mother who was caring for the son of a mentally disabled woman died unexpectedly less than two days after the 3-year-old--also disabled--was suddenly taken from her home, according to family and friends.
Laura Sanford, 40, was heartbroken by the sudden loss of Vinson Haggadone, who was taken from Sanford's Anaheim home June 3 by a social worker accompanied by police officers, friends and relatives said.
On Friday, while she was in Athens, Ohio, for a memorial service for her grandfather, Sanford collapsed in her motel room and was pronounced dead at a local hospital, her family confirmed Tuesday. A coroner has conducted an autopsy but could not be reached for comment on the results.
Sanford was part of what was supposed to be a happy ending to the troubled story of Sharon Vinton of Stanton and her son, Vinson, who has been the subject of ongoing custody battle between the mother and the child's father, Keith Haggadone.
Soon after Vinson was born, Haggadone took him to Illinois, where the child reportedly lived with him and his paternal grandmother. Vinton's friends, including Orange County private investigator DeAnna Bever, began to search for the child. They were successful, and the child was reunited with his mother here in April.
Because Vinton's disability makes her unable to care for Vinson, friends worked out an unusual arrangement for custody that was approved by a family court judge.
Sanford, mother of five children 10 to 18 years old, agreed to be Vinson's foster mother and allow Vinton extensive visitation. Sanford had taken the boy to a doctor, who said he needed extensive care for his delayed development and other problems, Bever said. Social services officials decided that Vinson needed to be declared a dependent of the court, which would make him eligible for benefits.
Sanford knew that and was prepared to give up custody of Vinson temporarily, but she was unprepared for what happened next, Bever said. On the afternoon of June 3, Bever said, Sanford told her that the child's social worker appeared unannounced, accompanied by police officers, and took Vinson away.
Mary Harris, deputy director of children's and family services for Orange County's Social Services Agency, said she could not comment on the case, citing confidentiality laws.
The next day, Sanford flew to Ohio for her father's memorial service. Sanford's mother, Shirley Oliver of Carson City, Nev., met her there and recalled how upset her daughter was.
"She was very tired, very depressed that night. I think it was bothering her, but the next day, she was doing well," she said. Sanford visited with friends and relatives, then returned to the motel room, where she collapsed while on the telephone with a friend, Oliver said. Oliver and the hotel manager found Sanford on the floor, her lips blue. Other relatives and eventually the paramedics tried to revive her, but she was declared dead at the local hospital.
Now Vinson's future is even more uncertain. Bever has tried to set up another foster-parent arrangement for Vinson. Meanwhile, Haggadone has made efforts to reclaim his son, making arrangements for the aunt of his current wife to take care of the child.
"Until the courts decide to give him to me, I want him with a loving, caring family," Haggadone said. He expressed concerns that the handling of Vinson's case has "traumatized" his son. "He is quiet, withdrawn. . . . That's not the Vinny I know."
Both Sharon Vinton and Haggadone's mother appeared in Juvenile Court in Orange on Tuesday to arrange visitation with the child. Bever, as well as Sanford's family, had hoped that custody of Vinson would eventually return to Sanford.
"She had been so looking forward to taking care of him," Oliver said.
Sanford's other children are staying with friends and relatives.