Hartford woman gets probation in toddler’s drowning case

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/14/2021 11:01:08 PM
Modified: 1/14/2021 11:01:01 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — A 29-year-old Hartford woman was placed on probation Thursday for failing to keep a close eye on her boyfriend’s toddler, who drowned in the White River, and then lying to police about it.

Laura Shaw, 29, pleaded guilty during a virtual hearing in Windsor Superior Court Thursday to one count of reckless endangerment and one count of giving false information to a police officer in connection with the July 2019 death of 18-month-old Heaven McEwan. Prosecutors have said Shaw was drinking alcohol and looking at her phone, rather than watching the girl during an outing to the river, and that she later lied about what she was doing before Heaven’s death.

As part of Shaw’s plea deal, Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Mann issued a deferred one-year prison sentence for the endangerment charge, with the condition that she complete two years of probation. She was also ordered to pay a $607 fine for the false information charge.

The toddler’s father, Isaac McEwan, 22, has pleaded not guilty to abandoning a child and obstruction of justice in connection with the drowning, but his case is still pending, according to prosecutors.

For Heaven’s mother, Teresa Terrazas, Shaw’s sentence is not enough. Appearing by phone at the hearing Thursday, Terrazas spoke with a choked voice about her daughter and the pain of her loss.

“I think it’s not fair…. If it weren’t for her negligence, my daughter would still be alive,” Terrazas said. “Ms. Shaw deserves a worse punishment than what she is getting.”

She said that her own mother never got a chance to meet her daughter and asked the judge to think of the pain her other daughter has experienced in the wake of her sister’s death.

“(Shaw) cost my daughter her life because she decided her cell phone and alcohol was more important than my daughter,” Terrazas said.

Shaw declined to speak when Mann asked if she wanted to make a comment during the hearing. However, her attorney Sandra Nelson told the judge that “given the circumstances” the sentencing was fair.

Shaw’s charges have been amended from the counts of abandoning a child and obstruction of justice, which prosecutors initially brought against Shaw and McEwan following a months-long investigation in 2019.

They say the couple, along with a few friends, brought Heaven and her 2-year-old sister to go swimming under the Quechee-West Hartford bridge in July 2019, according to an affidavit written by Hartford Police Officer Sean Fernandes.

Shaw told police she had been watching Heaven in the water while McEwan was berry picking, and that when the young girl left to go see her father, Shaw got up to check her phone, the affidavit said.

She told police that when she looked up 30 seconds later the toddler was missing.

After a short search, McEwan found Heaven floating under the bridge, according to police.

Her story matched McEwan’s in police interviews, according to the affidavit.

However, Cassandra Shea, a friend who joined McEwan and Shaw at the beach, refuted the couple’s story, telling police that Shaw actually got out of the water to “shotgun” two Twisted Teas, a tea-flavored alcoholic drink, and that when she was done she asked “where’s the baby?” according to the affidavit.

A witness visiting the riverbank at the time also told police that the adults were not watching the children in the water.

Police believe the couple lied about how long they left Heaven without watching her, and how much they had to drink, according to the affidavit.

McEwan has a status conference scheduled for Jan. 29 regarding his charges.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

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