BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — The mother of the 11-year-old boy who was hit and killed in an crash involving a sheriff’s deputy defended her son and criticized the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office for how the situation has been handled.
Christina Valadez, the boy’s mother, spoke publicly for the first time during a news conference with her attorney Tuesday afternoon.
“They (authorities) haven’t even reached out to us. As a member of this community, it’s just heartbreaking,” Valadez said.
Authorities say Norman Hood was riding a pocket bike around 9:30 p.m. May 28 on Michigan Avenue near Lenon Street when he was hit by the deputy’s cruiser. The deputy was responding to a report of a burglary in progress in Springfield, but did not have the cruiser’s lights and sirens activated, Sheriff Matt Saxton said.
On Tuesday, Saxton said the deputy was placed on paid administrative leave immediately following the incident.
At the conference, the attorney representing the boy’s family claimed there is evidence to suggest the deputy was speeding at the time of the incident.
“We are very concerned in that our preliminary investigation has shown — does show —that the officer involved was traveling at an excessively high rate of speed,” said Don Sappanos, the family’s personal injury attorney.
Authorities say the boy was rushed to Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, where he was declared dead. The deputy was not hurt, but was taken to Bronson Battle Creek Hospital to be evaluated.
The sheriff says it appears the motor bike turned in front of the patrol car. Saxton said the boy wasn’t wearing a helmet and the pocket bike did not have lights and was not made to be operated on a street.
At the conference, the attorney and Valadez say they are concerned authorities seem to blame the incident on Norman. They say he was trying to cross the street when the crash happened.
“This is not my son’s fault. My son was a good kid,” Valadez said. “Yeah, he was rambunctious. … But he was a good kid, and he was loving and cared for others.”
Sappanos defended the mother who has been criticized on social media. He said the boy was being supervised and that his mother knew where he was when the incident happened.
In an afternoon phone interview, the sheriff responded to the family’s criticism. He said his undersheriff spoke with the family and has been in contact since the crash.
“My undersheriff spoke with the parents of the juvenile the night of the incident and passed along our condolences,” Saxton told 24 Hour News 8. “I grieve for the family … and we’ve shared that with the family.”
He said the case has been hard on everyone involved.
“My heart breaks for (the family of the victim) as a law enforcement officer, but also as a parent and a human being,” he said.
Saxton said he had not received information about how fast the deputy was going at the time of the crash. He doesn’t intend to identify fault, saying that is the job of an investigation by the Michigan State Police.
MSP 1st Lt. Chuck Christensen said investigators have determined the vehicle’s speed from an on-scene investigation and the vehicle’s “black box.” Christensen also said investigators obtained dashcam video from the cruiser involved in the crash.
While the circumstances of Norman’s death remain under investigation, Valadez is still processing the pain of loosing her youngest son.
“He was a good kid and he was loving and he cared for others,” Valadez said.
Valadez shared the last video she has of her son, taken two hours before he died. It shows the boy fishing and smiling. She said the two had a good time and spent most of the day together.
“I am very thankful that God gave me that last day with my son,” Valadez said.
Shortly after the video was taken, Valadez had a final conversation with her son. She said he asked her where she was going.
“I told him where I was going he said, ‘OK, well, have fun. I love you,” Valadez said. “That was our last conversation.”