Hunched over the Honda’s trunk, the police officer opened a plastic garbage bag and pulled aside blankets. There, he found her – 5-year-old Tatiana Garcia, her skin a grayish tint and foam seeping from her mouth.
Sacramento police Officer Ethan Zeek sat in a quiet Yolo County courtroom Friday and recalled making the awful discovery that September afternoon, one that left him visibly shaken more than three months later.
“She was wearing purple jammies,” Zeek said, his voice catching as he sat a few yards from the girl’s mother and alleged killer.
“Sorry,” he said, before taking a moment to compose himself. “I have a daughter the same age.”
It was an emotional moment during the few hours of testimony that ended with Superior Court Judge David W. Reed’s ruling that sufficient evidence existed for Aquelin Talamantes to stand trial in her daughter’s Sept. 26 murder.
Talamantes, 29, is accused of drowning her little girl in the bathtub of the Davis home they shared with Tatiana’s 4-year-old brother, Michael; Talamantes’ sister, Elisa Torres; and Torres’ son. Prosecutors argue Talamantes then stuffed the girl in the trunk of her car and drove to another sister’s house in Sacramento’s Pocket neighborhood, where concerned family members and then Zeek would discover the girl’s body.
Zeek saw no obvious injury on the girl’s frame, he said, but noted her wet brown hair.
Despite Tatiana’s alarming color, Zeek said he saw a bubble pop at her mouth. It was probably oxygen emptying from her lungs, he surmised Friday, but at the time it was reason enough to try CPR.
“I think it was hope,” he said. “I thought she was still alive.”
Roughly two minutes passed before a bystander and a second officer relieved Zeek and continued the chest compressions, but their efforts were in vain. Tatiana was pronounced dead at a local hospital shortly thereafter.
Detectives ultimately traced the crime back to the family’s home on Glide Drive in Davis, where Talamantes told a police officer earlier that day that she felt she couldn’t take care of her children any more, according to a police detective who interviewed Torres, Talamantes’ oldest sister, about the interaction.
It was not the first time Talamantes had let on she felt overwhelmed, Sacramento police Detective Scott MacLafferty testified Friday. Torres told him that her sister had made several statements in the last six months that she was in distress, he said.
“Stupid kids, I can’t take care of them,” Torres quoted Talamantes as saying in an interview with police, MacLafferty testified. “I don’t want them.”
Family members also told MacLafferty that Talamantes suffered from psychosis, schizophrenia, paranoia and possibly bipolar disorder, the detective said. But even as they feared for Talamantes’ stability, they never heard her say anything that indicated she was a threat to her children, MacLafferty said.
“I would have gone and taken them,” he quoted Priscilla Talamantes, another sister, as saying.
The morning of Tatiana’s death, Elisa Torres was stopped by a Davis police officer for a traffic infraction outside the home. After she was given a warning, two police officers ended up inside the house with Torres, Talamantes and her two children, MacLafferty testified. He was not clear on the sequence of events leading up to the officers’ entry in to the home.
In a statement to MacLafferty after the death, Torres recalled one of the officers repeating a comment by Talamantes that “she can’t take care of her kids,” MacLafferty testified.
“Elisa said she could, that that wasn’t true,” MacLafferty said.
Davis police officials previously have said that the officers saw no signs of abuse or neglect in the home and left after providing Talamantes with some information about social services that could help her.
Torres left the home shortly after the conversation with Davis police to run errands, MacLafferty testified. She rushed home, concerned, after receiving an odd text message from her sister.
Torres arrived to find Talamantes’ car backed into the driveway at an angle, covering a sprinkler, and her 4-year-old boy looking uncharacteristically pale, Torres told the detective. When she asked where Tatiana was, Talamantes responded that she didn’t know, then left to go to Priscilla Talamantes’ Pocket apartment.
That set off a series of worried text messages and phone calls from Torres and Priscilla Talamantes to their sister, MacLafferty said. When she arrived in Sacramento, she still could not explain the girl’s absence, and wouldn’t allow family members to take her keys. Sacramento police were called to check on the girl’s welfare – and told of family members’ suspicions that the girl could be in the trunk.
Later that night, Talamantes phoned her sister Elisa, Davis police Lt. Glenn Glasgow told the court. When the older sister asked what happened to Tatiana, Talamantes replied, “I was hearing bad voices,” Glasgow testified. Asked again about the girl, Talamantes told Torres, “I don’t know. I need help. I need to be in the hospital.”
The next day, she asked a deputy at the Yolo County Main Jail where her daughter’s body was, according to MacLafferty’s testimony about his later conversation with the deputy.
Her daughter had drowned, Talamantes reportedly told the deputy, and she needed to plan a funeral.
Call The Bee’s Kim Minugh, (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter @Kim_Minugh.