Bay City News
Friday, August 20, 2004

2-year-old boy dies in locked van; mother arrested

A 2-year-old boy died of heat exhaustion in Healdsburg on Thursday after his allegedly intoxicated mother left him and his 4-year-old brother in a locked van in 90-degree heat for about eight hours, police said.

The mother of Liam Paulsen, 35-year-old Rena Corban, apparently began drinking in the morning and passed out on a couch when she returned home around 10 a.m. after running errands with the children, according to Healdsburg police Sgt. Toni Pinochi.

Corban, who was reprimanded by authorities for leaving her child alone in a car before, is currently being held without bond on suspicion of murder in Sonoma County jail. Pinochi said a child endangerment charge is also pending.

The father, 39-year-old Justin Paulsen, found the children in the van when he returned around 6 p.m. from his job at a local winery to the family's home at 209 Hummingbird Court, police said.

Police said the father was hysterical when he was questioned at Healdsburg General Hospital.

Liam was found in a car seat in the back of the four-door Toyota van and 4-year-old Jaden Paulsen was found lying naked on the floorboards near the front seat, Pinochi said.

Jaden was treated at the scene and released to a grandmother. He remains with his father at a neighbor's house and both will be interviewed after an autopsy on Liam is completed today, authorities said.

Pinochi said arriving officers found Justin Paulsen administering CPR on his younger son. Liam was pronounced dead while en route to Healdsburg Hospital.

Pinochi said the high temperature in Healdsburg on Thursday was 92 degrees. A bush near the driveway where the van was parked provided little or no shade but police will conduct tests for "a shade factor,'' Pinochi said.

The van had child safety locks on the sliding side doors and the handles on the two front doors were difficult to find. None of the windows in the van had been cracked open, Pinochi said, and the van's hatchback was locked.

Corban told investigators she "partially" remembers going around town with the children but said that she "blacked out" on the living room couch when she returned home, Pinochi said. There were small amounts of alcohol in the home, Pinochi said.

"There's no indication she was drinking when she returned home," Pinochi said.

Corban began drinking at home at 8 a.m. and continued drinking in the car, Pinochi said. Police found wine bottles in the van, he said. The results of toxicology tests are pending.

Corban allegedly left Liam alone in her vehicle at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds for 20 minutes when the boy was 18 months old. A passerby called police and Corban was reprimanded, Pinochi said.

An information report was filed with Child Protective Services, Pinochi said, but Corban was not cited by police.

Corban's arraignment is scheduled for Monday.