Pamela Black is facing charges related to her baby’s death from a scalding bath. (Via Lakeland Police Department)
LAKELAND — A 21-year-old Florida mother has been accused of intentionally placing her baby in a scalding bath that led to the child’s death late last year.
Pamela Black was charged with aggravated child abuse and aggravated manslaughter of a child in connection with the Oct. 23, 2018 incident that occurred at the then family’s apartment in the 5100 block of Scrum Loop Road.
Eleven-month-old Serenity Gunter died on the morning of Nov. 6, 2018.
"According to Black’s sworn statements, she decided to give her daughter a bath in the kitchen sink, filling it up with water equal to her daughter’s chest," said Gary B. Gross of the Lakeland Police Department in announcing the mother’s arrest on Wednesday. "Black said she bathed her daughter and then gave her toys so she could play with them in the water."
Black’s husband, Taylor Smith, was home at the time, but has not been charged.
Gross said Black claimed she left the baby unattended while she cleaned a nearby kitchen counter for about two minutes before hearing her daughter whining.
"Black stated she turned around and then noticed the hot water was on and she stated that her daughter must have ‘bumped it,’" said Gross. "Black stated she turned the water off, grabbed the child and wrapped her in a towel."
But Lakeland police said the woman did not immediately call an ambulance or take the baby to the hospital.
"A friend that was in the apartment drove them to Lakeland Regional Health nearly one-and-a-half hours after the injuries were sustained," explained Gross.
The baby was flown by helicopter to Tampa General Hospital later that night. The child suffered from third-degree burns to more than 50% of her body.
An autopsy performed by Dr. Verah Volnikh of the Polk County Medical Examiner’s office concluded that the baby was forcefully lowered into the scalding water buttocks first. Volnikh ruled the cause of death "thermal injury burns" and the manner of death as homicide.
Volnikh also concluded that the child suffered from a "brain bleed" which indicated that she had been shaken around the same time she was burned.
The doctor noted that it would have taken about two seconds for the child to suffer third-degree burns with a water temperature of 145 degrees. Investigators measured the hot water temperature coming into the sink to be between 140 to 145 degrees.
"The burn pattern indicated that her daughter was intentionally compressed inward and the burn was consistent with an immersion burn," said Gross. "Detectives obtained statements from medical professionals that the burn patterns did not match Black’s account of what occurred."
Black was taken into custody on Tuesday without incident. She was being held without bail at Polk County Jail.
Kim Manel, an advanced registered nurse practitioner in the burn unit of Tampa General Hospital, told police that Black insisted her baby was sitting on her feet in the sink though there were no burns on the child’s feet.
Manel also recalled a conversation with Black regarding the medical procedures used to treat severe burns.
"Black’s responses included, ‘That’s really gross,’ ‘Stop talking about it’ and ‘I don’t want to hear this,’" according to arrest documents.