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Toddler death trial: 21-month old liked to play on steps near pool

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    Elizabeth Zenda, center, speaks with her attorneys, Douglas Merrill and Michael Wilson, on Thursday during her bench trial for involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment in connection with the 2016 death of 22-month-old Annie Flynn, who drowned under her care.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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ELYRIA — In an interview two days after the drowning death of a 22-month-old girl, Elizabeth Zenda told a Lorain County Sheriff’s detective she knew Annie Flynn liked to play on the deck steps attached to an above-ground pool and had gone under the locked gate previously.

During the second day of the bench trial of Zenda, of Pittsfield Township, the state played a video interview of Zenda with Detective Dave Lottman that took place Oct. 7, 2016. Zenda, 49, faces charges of involuntary manslaughter and child endangering in connection with the Oct. 5, 2016, incident in which Annie drowned in a pool at Zenda’s home while under Zenda’s care.

According to testimony in the trial, Annie and her then-21-month-old cousin Jaxon Flynn were found floating in the pool about 10:20 a.m. at Zenda’s in-home day care. The state has said the death of Annie and the brain injuries sustained by Jaxon were the result of negligence by Zenda, while Zenda’s defense attorney Doug Merrill has said it was a tragic accident.

Testimony in the trial has said the children were in Zenda’s backyard while Zenda was inside the home talking with another woman. It’s estimated the children were left unattended for seven to eight minutes.

It is believed that Annie and Jaxon climbed the steps that led to the deck attached to the pool and then slipped underneath a locked gate that blocked access to the deck but had a 7-inch gap at the bottom. A plastic baby gate that was propped against the locked gate to block the gap was found lying on the deck, as if it had been pushed over.

In testimony Wednesday, Zenda’s daughter-in-law Tanya Zenda testified that a metal chair was usually placed behind the plastic baby gate to keep the gate from falling over. On Thursday, though, Lottman said Tanya Zenda told him something else during an interview two days after the incident.

“I showed her a picture of that chair, and she said it was set up that way because (Jaxon’s 3-year-old brother) Gavin (Flynn) was still on scene, after the other two (Jaxon and Annie) had been taken to the hospital,” Lottman said. “They weren’t sure how long they were going to have Gavin because the parents were going to the hospital. So to avoid any other issues, they put it up that way.”

Lottman also said Tanya Zenda told him the chair was normally kept with the other chairs, near a table closer to the pool on the deck.

In the interview video, Elizabeth Zenda told Lottman that Annie had gone under the gate previously, and that was the reason the plastic gate had been placed against the locked gate. When asked if the gate had deterred Annie from going under the gate, Elizabeth Zenda responded, “Sometimes.”

When asked about why the baby gate was propped up and not secured, Elizabeth Zenda said that if the gate was knocked over “I would hope that I would hear it.”

Assistant County Prosecutor Laura Dezort said that statement showed that the gate was usually not secured by a chair.

“You’re talking about the gate falling. Would the gate fall if there was a chair up against it?” she said. “But yet you were discussing hearing the gate fall, and she hoped she would hear it if it fell. That would certainly lead you to believe that a chair was not normally kept there to stop that gate from falling.”

Merrill pointed out that Lottman did not ask Elizabeth Zenda any details about the circumstances of Annie going under the gate prior to Oct. 5, 2016. He also said that Elizabeth Zenda had addressed the risk by placing the plastic gate behind the other gate.

Lorain County Chief Deputy Coroner Dr. Frank Miller also testified Thursday and said the cause of Annie’s death was asphyxia by drowning and the manner of her death was accident.

The state rested and Merrill said it was unknown whether the defense would call any witnesses to the stand. Closing arguments are expected to take place today.

The trial will resume at 9 a.m. today before Judge James Miraldi.

Contact Scott Mahoney at 329-7146 or smahoney@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @SMahoneyCT.


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