SACAMENTO—A Citrus Heights woman, whose infant son fatally overdosed on drugs he ingested, was sentenced on Friday, March 27 to 12 years and four months in state prison in the child’s death.
Sarah Ann Stephens, 32, had been charged with murder and felony child endangerment in the death of Ryder James Salmen, who was just seven months old when he overdosed on a fatal mix of Xanax, methadone and a painkiller on September 28, 2012. First responders found the child dead at Stephens’ Citrus Heights apartment.
Ryder died nearly five months after authorities warned Stephens to not breastfeed him because of high levels of methadone found in his bloodstream when he was two months old. At that time, the baby was rushed by relatives to a hospital’s emergency room and was revived by emergency personnel, said district attorney’s officials.
Investigators initially thought the infant 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 how the lethal dose was administered to Ryder.
At that time, a social worker determined the infant was at risk because he was a “drug-exposed infant.” CPS ordered a “safety plan” for the child to remain in the home, which officials reportedly said was completed. However, another document—a safety assessment—wasn’t approved by a CPS manager until three months after it was created by a social worker.
Child Protective Services also did not complete another safety assessment after Stephens was cited when a car she was driving, with her son in the back seat, went off the road.
On March 27, 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 Sacramento Superior Court Judge Joseph Orr.
Ryder’s father, Kyle Salmen, talked about the milestone moments he and his family would never 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.