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Mother suspected of throwing baby from garage was 'calm, stoic,' police say

The 7-month-old boy is in critical condition at UC Irvine Medical Center. His mother, Sonia Hermosillo, has been booked on one count of attempted murder and is being held in Orange County Jail.

August 24, 2011|By Scott Gold and Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times

When a patrol officer pulled over the tan SUV on Monday night in the city of Orange, there was an empty child's seat in the back. The driver, a mother of three named Sonia Hermosillo, was cooperative and polite.

"Calm. Stoic. No emotion," said Orange police Sgt. Dan Adams.

Her mood was striking, authorities said, considering that hours earlier, Hermosillo had allegedly done the unthinkable — dropped her son over the side of a hospital parking garage.

The 7-month-old boy, Noe Medina Jr., who was dropped from the fourth story and landed on a concrete walkway near an ambulance pad, remained in extremely critical condition Tuesday at UC Irvine Medical Center.

Hermosillo, 31, was booked at Orange County Jail in Santa Ana on one count of attempted murder and was being held without bail. She was confined alone in her cell and was undergoing a psychiatric evaluation, county officials said.

Pockets of Orange, meanwhile, were beset with questions and sadness — particularly at Children's Hospital of Orange County, where the incident occurred.

The hospital, at South Main Street and La Veta Avenue, is one of the nation's busiest and best-known children's hospitals. Inside the parking garage Tuesday, pride in the facility was evident; cars were plastered with CHOC bumper stickers and one car's license plate read RN4NICU — driven by a nurse, presumably, from the neonatal intensive-care unit.

But a few feet away, yellow crime-scene tape had been placed in front of the light-blue railing on the side of the garage where the boy was dropped.

"As an organization dedicated to its mission to nurture, advance and protect the health and well-being of children, CHOC is deeply saddened," the hospital said in a statement.

Hermosillo appears to have picked the garage randomly, police said; they said it does not appear that the baby had ever been a patient at the facility.

According to Adams, at least two people, including a doctor at the hospital, called 911 at 6:20 p.m. Monday to report that a baby had either fallen or been dropped from the side of the garage. After paramedics whisked the baby away, police investigators scoured the garage and then looked at its surveillance video.

The video showed a 2000 Chevrolet Blazer, driven by a woman, pulling out of the garage minutes after the incident. Officers traced the plates to La Habra, then called the police department there to report their findings. La Habra investigators revealed that a short time earlier, they had received a report from Hermosillo's husband that she and their son were missing.

With the investigation focused on Hermosillo, officers throughout the region were asked to keep an eye out for the Blazer. At 10:15 p.m., an officer pulled the car over — on Main Street, directly in front of the Children's Hospital.

Police said they believe they know Hermosillo's motive, but they declined to reveal it. Hermosillo was not believed to have been involved in a domestic dispute or a custody battle, police said.

"We are sure that this act was done on purpose," Adams said.

One former neighbor said the baby may have suffered from some kind of birth defect, and photos of the boy show him wearing some type of helmet. Police said that the baby was not wearing a helmet at the time of the incident and that they are not focusing on any sort of birth abnormality.

No one was home Tuesday afternoon at the apartment on Idaho Street in La Habra where the family lived. Neighbors who lived in the complex, a family-friendly place surrounding a courtyard landscaped with trees and shrubs, said the family had lived there for two months. They had two little girls as well as the boy, and Hermosillo stayed home with the children, they said.

"You would never hear them yelling or arguing," said Teresita Alcala, 18, the apartment manager's daughter.

Alcala said she believed the Hermosillo and her husband, Noe Medina, were immigrants; authorities said it appears that Hermosillo was in the United States illegally.

Residents of the apartment complex said police officers had been at the family's apartment before. Alcala said they came periodically to check on Hermosillo because of her history of mental illness. Medina told the Orange County Register that his wife had been hospitalized for postpartum depression in June, was taking medication and wasn't allowed to be alone with their son.

Sonia Herrera, 40, who lived downstairs from the family, said she had known Hermosillo for about a year because their children went to school together. She remembered seeing Hermosillo riding bicycles and scooters with her daughters.

"She was very happy when she was pregnant with her baby," Herrera said. "She was a lovely mom with her girls."

But Herrera and Alcala said they had noticed a change in Hermosillo in recent weeks. She seemed withdrawn and stayed inside.

"I am so sad," Herrera said. "For me, I think she's sick. I don't think she wanted to hurt" the baby.

Hermosillo's arraignment is scheduled for Wednesday.

scott.gold@latimes.com

abby.sewell@latimes.com

Los Angeles Times staff writer Paloma Esquivel and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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