Texas police investigate 3-year-old’s drowning death at Lufkin Motel 6
Officers shook the motel bed and yelled at the sleeping father, trying to rouse him, according to a police report.
Once 26-year-old Rondarius Smith finally woke up on March 20, officers told him the news: His 3-year-old daughter, Arianna, had sneaked out of the family’s room at a Motel 6 in Lufkin, Texas, and was found at the bottom of the motel’s pool, police said. The toddler was rushed to Texas Children’s Hospital, but she died of respiratory failure and cardiac arrest.
The TV had been blaring and the door had been ajar when police entered at 5:15 p.m., police said. Smith was alone in the room. An officer asked him if he was in charge of watching his daughter, and he said yes, according to the police report. But Smith had stayed up all night drinking and doing drugs, and he had fallen asleep around 3 p.m. as the girl watched cartoons, he later told police. Smith admitted he had no idea his daughter had drowned until officers woke him, according to the police report.
Smith was arrested Monday on injury to a child charges, according to Angelina County jail records. He turned himself in to police after a warrant was obtained for his arrest, police told the Lufkin Daily News.
It wasn’t the first time one of Smith’s children had slipped out of a motel room on his watch, police said. Smith was arrested in October 2014 after a manager at the same Motel 6 called police to report another toddler “wandering around,” according to the police report. Smith had also fallen asleep the afternoon of Oct. 9, 2014, and his 2-year-old son escaped the motel room, police said. That incident happened while the child’s mother was at municipal court, Smith told police, adding that the mother was supposed to have taken the 2-year-old with her. After the 2014 incident, Smith was arrested on a probation violation and outstanding warrants, according to police.
The March incident that left Arianna dead was caught on surveillance camera footage, police said.
The video begins with the door to Room 111 — where the family was staying — opening at 4:35 p.m. Moments later, a small child comes out and runs down the sidewalk outside the room, before returning to the room seconds later. A minute later, the child comes out of the room again and heads to the pool, opening the gate "without any difficulty," police said. She uses the ladder to step into the deep end, then gets out and goes to the shallow end. From there, she wades deeper and deeper, until she starts to struggle and sinks to the bottom, according to police.
Meanwhile, people walk by the pool and do yard maintenance in the video footage — not noticing the child drowning in the pool, police said. Roughly 10 minutes after Arianna entered the water, a woman spotted her and pulled her from the bottom of the pool. Bystanders laid her on the concrete and performed CPR until EMS arrived and took Arianna to the hospital, police said.
Smith told police at a child protective services meeting after Arianna’s death that he’d been drinking Bud Light at his grandpa’s house the night before, then had tequila at the motel with the child's mother around 9 p.m. as the children slept. Then Smith left the Motel 6 around 3 a.m. to go to a friend’s house, where he drank more beer, snorted three or four lines of cocaine and took a blue pill that was “possibly an ecstasy tab,” he told police. From there, Smith drove back to the motel, got two male children ready for school around 7 a.m. and dropped them off, according to the police report.
The children's mother left the motel room to pick up one of the children in the afternoon, leaving Arianna with Smith, he told police — and the next thing he knew, police were waking him up telling him Arianna had fallen in the water.
Smith told police he’d locked the door to the hotel room, but police wrote in a criminal complaint that “Rondarius should have been aware of the dangers of failing to secure the motel room, and supervise his child, yet he failed to act to prevent her drowning.”
After the child’s death, Smith filed an April 6 lawsuit seeking $1 million in damages from G6 Hospitality and Smit Inc., alleging that a broken gate latch at the pool and lax security caused his daughter's death, the Lufkin Daily News reports. The girl’s mother filed a separate lawsuit April 13, also blaming the latch for her death, according to the newspaper.
Right after the incident, one bystander said the motel could have done more to prevent the child from getting into the pool.
"If they made sure that their gates were locked after they put their chemicals in there, that child would have never ended up in the pool," Monica Lamborn, who pulled Arianna from the pool, told KTRE.
Initially, police said they didn’t plan to press charges, according to the TV station. But that was before the child protective services meeting March 28 at which Smith detailed his drug and alcohol use the night before the incident.