Crime - Sacto 911

Citrus Heights mom gets 12 years after infant son’s fatal overdose

A Citrus Heights mother whose infant son fatally overdosed on drugs he ingested was sentenced Friday to more than 12 years in prison in the child’s death.

Sarah Ann Stephens had been charged with murder and felony child endangerment in Ryder’s death, but in February pleaded no contest to charges of voluntary manslaughter and child endangerment. Sacramento Superior Court Judge Joseph Orr sentenced Stephens to 12 years, four months in state prison at the morning hearing.

Stephens’ son, Ryder James Salmen, overdosed Sept. 28, 2012, on a fatal mix of Xanax, methadone and a painkiller nearly five months to the day after authorities warned her not to nurse the 7-month-old because of the high levels of methadone found in the infant’s bloodstream. First responders found the child dead at Stephens’ Citrus Heights apartment.

Five months earlier, on April 29, 2012, Ryder was just 2 months old when he was rushed by relatives to a hospital’s emergency room after methadone was found in his system. He had to be revived by emergency personnel, said district attorney’s officials.

Investigators initially thought young Ryder overdosed on his mother’s drug-laden breast milk, but prosecutors’ forensics experts later determined “it was scientifically unlikely” the fatal overdose came from mother’s milk, said Sacramento County district attorney’s officials. Prosecutors said it was unclear exactly how the lethal dose was administered to Ryder.

On Friday, standing in a courtroom cell at Sacramento County jail, Stephens listened to letters read by members of her husband’s anguished family and the sentence handed down by Orr.

Ryder’s father, Kyle Salmen, talked about the milestone moments he and his family would never be able to share with his son and the second chances – too many by his count – granted Stephens.

“Every day I am reminded ... that I will not see his sweet smile and big brown eyes ever again,” Salmen said.

Stephens, her back to the gallery and the Salmen family, showed little emotion as the order was read.

Call The Bee’s Darrell Smith, (916) 321-1040.

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