As Aquelin Talamantes celebrated her 11th birthday in June of 1995, police in her hometown of Dixon were mounting an extensive search effort to find her missing mother.
A ranch worker found Rosa Talamantes’ body in an irrigation ditch two weeks later. In the wake of the single mother’s violent death at the hands of her boyfriend, Rosa’s eldest daughter took under her wing six younger siblings, Aquelin among them.
Tragedy would revisit the Talamantes family 18 years later, when police arrested 29-year-old Aquelin Crystal Talamantes in connection with the death of her own young child. Today, Aquelin Talamantes remains in the Yolo County jail.
Her family struggles to comprehend the allegations – coming just a few months after Aquelin reportedly was diagnosed with mental illness – while deeply grieving the loss of 5-year-old Tatiana Garcia. Tatiana died Sept. 26 after her near-lifeless body was pulled from her mother’s trunk.
And they cling to hope that another Talamantes sister will be able to adopt Aquelin’s youngest child, a 4-year-old boy who has been living with his aunt and uncle in Sacramento.
At her Sept. 30 arraignment, Aquelin Talamantes pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and assault on a child with force likely to result in death. Emotional family members who attended the hearing declined to speak with the media, and other repeated attempts to reach the family have been unsuccessful. The attorney helping them adopt the 4-year-old boy said they are enduring incredible grief, but remain close-knit and loving during an unbearably challenging time.
“It’s a resilient family. They’re no strangers to tragedy,” said Jennifer Ani, a Bay Area family law attorney. “They have this incredible loving nature I rarely see.”
Efforts to reach Tatiana’s father, Oracio Garcia, or his family also have not been successful.
Court records indicate that Garcia and Talamantes were engaged in a tumultuous custody dispute in 2012, trading a volley of accusations that ended with a judge awarding Talamantes full custody of both children.
In January of that year, Talamantes filed paperwork for a restraining order against Garcia, claiming that he had been harassing her since September. She alleged domestic violence in their failed relationship and wrote that Garcia tried to stab her with a knife, hit her with his cane and punched her, according to court documents filed in Yolo Superior Court. She also said that Garcia “would intimidate” her son, and that her children were hungry and their diapers “soaked” when she returned home from school, having left them in the care of their father.
The court file also included a certificate proving Garcia had completed court-ordered domestic violence anger management classes in 2010.
Garcia pleaded in other court documents for shared custody of the children and argued that Talamantes was the violent one in the relationship. He claimed she had threatened his sister and “attacked” his father, and denied her accusations.
“She is making up things because she’s angry, and she even told (me) she would do whatever it takes to take the children out of my life and my family also,” Garcia wrote. “When she gets mad, she takes it out on everyone. She really needs counseling, anger management classes, she has big attitude problem.”
At a February 2012 hearing, Judge Samuel T. McAdam awarded sole legal and physical custody of the children to Talamantes, and a five-year restraining order against Garcia was granted. The ruling was finalized in a review hearing the following July.
A court spokeswoman told The Sacramento Bee this week that judicial ethics prohibit McAdam from discussing the case.
Between the custody battle and Tatiana’s death, Talamantes does not appear to have had any legal troubles in Yolo County. But Ani, the family law attorney helping the Talamantes family, said Aquelin was involuntarily placed on a “5150” mental health hold in August, and diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, among other mental health issues.
Ani said Talamantes was prescribed multiple medications. She said family members were supportive of Aquelin and did their best to help her: When Aquelin became homeless, her oldest sister opened her Davis home to Aquelin and the children and was trying to help find services for the struggling woman.
The morning of Tatiana’s death, Davis police unexpectedly crossed paths with Aquelin Talamantes and her children. According to police officials, an officer was on a traffic stop outside the family’s Glide Drive home just before 9 a.m. when Talamantes came outside.
The officer grew concerned after Talamantes “asked multiple times what the officer was doing there, even after the officer clearly explained why she was there,” said Davis police Lt. Paul Doroshov. The officer asked for another officer to join her, and the two went inside the home to conduct what police are describing as a “welfare check.”
“It was basically an overall uneasy feeling from her erratic behavior that prompted the officer to continue on with the welfare check,” Doroshov said.
The officers were inside about 40 minutes and found nothing amiss, Doroshov said. The children were laughing and playing on the couch, he said, and there were no signs of abuse or neglect. Talamantes and one of her sisters, who also lived at the home, were present.
Before the officers left, however, one “told Talamantes that she would further refer that report to try and get her some help in social services,” Doroshov said. Police have declined to be more specific.
Assistant Chief Darren Pytel previously told The Bee that the call was handled appropriately. This week, Doroshov said he’s heard of no concern among police officials since then.
“At that point, there was not a whole lot the officers could do,” he said.
That afternoon, the sister called police after learning that Talamantes had arrived at another relative’s apartment, located in Sacramento’s Pocket neighborhood, with only her 4-year-old son. Sacramento police responded to the Pocket Road apartment about 2:30 p.m. and made contact with Talamantes. Shortly thereafter, an officer discovered Tatiana in the trunk of her mother’s car.
Despite efforts to revive the girl, Tatiana was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Yolo County authorities have taken over the case because they believe the girl was first injured at the family’s Davis home.
The Sacramento County Coroner’s Office has not determined the girl’s cause of death and is awaiting test results. Meanwhile, the office released Tatiana’s body to her father, devastating the girl’s maternal relatives.
Ani said she believes the restraining order against Garcia should have prevented the release of the girl to him. She said the family felt further traumatized when none of them – including the girl’s 4-year-old brother – were invited to attend the burial.
Coroner Greg Wyatt said neither he nor county counsel can find any law prohibiting him from releasing a body to the next of kin, even if that person is subject to a restraining order.
“It doesn’t make sense from a legal, structural review that you would deny a father rights to bury his child based on a law that in life was designed to prevent harassment and harm,” he said.
On Friday, Aquelin Talamantes appeared briefly in court. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Nov. 14.
Call The Bee’s Kim Minugh, (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter @Kim_Minugh.