NAPLES — Collier County Sheriff’s detectives are investigating the drowning death of a 15-month-old girl at a Golden Gate Estates home on Tuesday morning.
Ava Grace Slaby was pronounced dead shortly after paramedics responded to a home at 4290 26th Ave. SE, the Sheriff’s Office reported. Upon arrival, they found mother Randi Marie MacLeod performing CPR on the child on the floor of the master bedroom.
Dispatchers received the 911 call at 8:43 a.m.
The cause of Ava’s death will be determined in a medical examiner’s autopsy. Detectives executed a search warrant of the home on Tuesday afternoon and will ultimately determine criminal culpability in the case, if any.
Ava’s grandmother, Pamela Slaby, said on Tuesday that MacLeod told her the child drowned in the home’s bathtub. She recalled receiving a frantic phone call from MacLeod early Tuesday morning, before the arrival of paramedics.
“I was under the assumption that maybe the baby fell, because I asked her, ‘Is Ava OK?’” Slaby recalled. “She said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Is she dead?’ She said, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know.’ She was hysterical.”
Slaby said she dressed and prepared to go to MacLeod’s home when a nurse called and told her the child was at a hospital. Ava was dead by the time she arrived, Slaby said.
She said MacLeod then told her she found the child unresponsive in the bathtub after leaving her alone briefly.
MacLeod’s account could not be confirmed Tuesday, as detectives began an investigation at the home. Two units from the Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene Bureau, members of the Major Case Unit and a road deputy were on scene in the afternoon.
Ava’s death comes one month after her involvement in a car crash that killed her father, Christopher Slaby, 24—Pamela Slaby’s son—and injured MacLeod, 25. The rollover crash, near the northbound entrance ramp to Interstate 75, did not injure the child, who was restrained in a car seat.
Slaby said MacLeod and Ava had remained in her home since the crash, before moving into the 26th Avenue SE home over the weekend.
“She was my life,” Slaby said of her granddaughter. “That’s what I have left from my son.”
Slaby said Ava’s mother, whom she described as her son’s girlfriend, was abusing prescription pills at the time of Ava’s death. She said her son also took the pills, which she named as Oxycodone and Xanax, while alive.
The Department of Children and Families has an active case in MacLeod’s household related to substance abuse, agency spokeswoman Erin Gillespie confirmed. Further details about the case were unavailable late Tuesday, and many are likely confidential, Gillespie said.
The agency will conduct its own investigation into the death, she said.
Slaby placed some blame for Ava’s death on DCF, claiming that a caseworker failed to follow up with MacLeod after asking the mother to provide a urine sample two weeks ago. She said that when MacLeod failed to produce a sample, the caseworker left an empty sample cup with the mother and told her to submit the test by the following Friday, Slaby said.
Gillespie couldn’t speak to the specific allegations, but she said agency policy prohibits allowing someone to submit a sample without supervision.
“We would never leave (the cup) there and ask them to bring it back,” she said. “We would ask them to come back or go back and ask them to produce a sample.”
Jodie Hovland, the owner of the home, said MacLeod signed the lease on Friday after moving out of Pamela Slaby’s home.
Hovland said her daughter is a friend of MacLeod’s and she strongly denied the mother was involved in drugs. She instead placed blame on Pamela Slaby and alleged the DCF case was in the grandmother’s name, not MacLeod’s.
“There’s no substance abuse, I can tell you that,” Hovland said. “The substance abuse is from Pam Slaby, and that’s why Randi left, is because of Pam.”
Pam Slaby denied Hovland’s allegation, saying MacLeod left her home after family members pressured her to end her drug use.
Slaby on Tuesday said the loss of her granddaughter has left her devastated.
“It’s a bad dream,” she said. “I’m numb. I don’t know what to do.”