By Olivia Hitchcock, Palm Beach Post
As little Lanard McDowell reached down to grab his pacifier on the evening of May 26, an unfortunate — but not criminal — string of events played out around him, the toddler’s father insists.
The 22-year-old dad, who shares his son’s name, was grabbing diapers out of a coworker’s Jeep, which was stopped in the street outside the family’s West Palm Beach home. Four of the boy’s siblings were playing in the fenced-in front yard. Their mother had stepped inside to use the restroom, McDowell recalled.
At about 5:30 that evening, McDowell’s coworker drove a Jeep away from the single-family home. The 2-year-old leaned into the road, reaching for the pacifier he’d dropped.
McDowell heard a “boom, boom,” according to city police records. Then he saw little Lanard in the road. The toddler was pronounced dead not long after.
McDowell can’t understand why his girlfriend and mother of their children, Abrianna Miller, was arrested on Thursday on a charge of manslaughter by culpable negligence in the little boy’s death.
“It’s not her fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not even the [driver’s] fault,” McDowell said Friday afternoon outside their home. “It’s a tragic accident.”
Miller, 28, is being held in the Palm Beach County Jail without the possibility of release due to a probation-violation charge in an open 2015 child neglect case. Court records indicate she is on community control until February in that case. If that probation charge is settled, Miller will be held on a $25,000 bond in the manslaughter case. Judge Caroline Shepherd ruled that Miller, a mother of eight, cannot have contact with anyone under the age of 18, including her seven surviving children.
McDowell suspects that 2015 case and other child-welfare investigations into Miller led authorities to pin Lanard’s death on her.
“They’re trying to make it seem like there’s something more,” McDowell said.
What happened May 26?
Lanard had been playing with four of his siblings, who ranged in age from 1 to 8, in the fenced-in front yard of their single-family home west of Broadway near the city’s northern border. Miller had been sitting in the doorway watching the kids, McDowell said.
When McDowell pulled up with a co-worker at about 5:30 p.m. in the co-worker’s Jeep, Miller stepped inside the house to use the restroom, McDowell said. The father stood by the yard where the kids played.
When his little boy saw that McDowell was home, the father said he assumes Lanard pushed on the front gate, which was closed but not locked, to say hello.
Nicholas Tarpinian, McDowell’s co-worker who was driving the Jeep, pulled away from the home toward Broadway. Tarpinian was on the wrong side of the residential street, McDowell said, and close to the curb where Lanard had leaned down to grab his pacifier.
The front driver side of the Jeep — which had large, off-road tires and a lifted suspension kit — hit the boy’s head, police records state.
One of the boy’s siblings who was in the yard ran inside to tell Miller, police learned. The mother picked up the boy and carried him into the home. She called 911.
McDowell called the driver, who hadn’t realized he’d hit the boy. Tarpinian headed to the nearest police station, which was in Riviera Beach, when he found out, authorities said. West Palm police do not expect to file charges against him, according to a police spokesman.
McDowell said he hasn’t heard from Tarpinian since Lanard’s death.
A history of child neglect allegations
Miller has been on the Florida Department of Children and Families’ radar since at least 2007 when she was arrested on child-cruelty and neglect charges. She was involved in seven other state investigations into allegations of abuse or neglect, records state.
Miller pleaded guilty to the 2007 child-neglect charge and served two days in jail, court records show.
Two years later, the mother’s three young kids were placed in permanent guardianship and in the custody of a relative, police records state.
In 2015 the state stepped in and sheltered four of Miller’s children, including Lanard, due to inadequate supervision, substance abuse and environmental hazards in their home. When her daughter was born in January 2016, the baby immediately was taken into state custody, police records state. Authorities took Miller’s children again in 2016 for similar allegations of inadequate supervision.
In July of that year, Miller was arrested on a child-neglect charge to which she pleaded guilty. That case is still open, prompting a county judge to keep Miller behind bars.
In September 2016, Miller was ordered by a judge to participate in parenting classes, in addition to receiving counseling for domestic violence, substance abuse and other issues, before she could regain custody of the children.
She lost custody again after Lanard’s death. According to state authorities, the children were placed in relatives’ care after their brother died.
“It’s not child neglect. It’s nothing like that,” McDowell said about Lanard’s death. “I don’t understand why they charged [Miller].”