Mother held in boy's death had drawn earlier notice

Roy Lechner Sr., whose wife has been charged with child abuse in the death of their 3-year-old son, says he has urged police to take another look at the November death of their 6-month-old son.
Roy Lechner Sr., whose wife has been charged with child abuse in the death of their 3-year-old son, says he has urged police to take another look at the November death of their 6-month-old son. (Sun photo by Elizabeth Malby)
A 25-year-old Dundalk woman whose parenting had drawn the attention of authorities has been charged with child abuse in the death this week of her 3-year-old son, prompting investigators to launch a review of the death of her younger son in November, police said yesterday.

Denise Marie Lechner of the 7800 block of St. Fabian Lane was arrested and charged late Tuesday night, several hours after her 3-year-old son, Roy Lechner Jr., died, Baltimore County police said. She told police that she hit the boy and he fell down a flight of stairs, according to court documents.

The toddler's safety was the subject of court hearings after his infant brother died in November, a spokeswoman for Baltimore County's Department of Social Services said yesterday.

"We're involved with this family and have been intensively for some time," said spokeswoman Maureen Robinson.

The agency had provided services, such as regular visits from social workers, to the family since the spring of 2003, she said. Roy Jr.'s younger brother, Donald Wayne Lechner, had been briefly placed in foster care before his death, the spokeswoman said.

An autopsy concluded that the cause of the 6-month-old baby's death in November was "sudden unexplained death in infancy" and listed the manner of death as "undetermined," the state medical examiner's office said yesterday.

The baby's death was investigated in November, said Bill Toohey, a county police spokesman. No charges were filed. However, the case will be reviewed again, he said yesterday.

In August, Denise Lechner was charged with leaving the two children -- the younger one 3 months old at the time -- unattended in a pickup truck in a store parking lot, court records show. She is awaiting trial on those charges, according to court documents.

Her husband, Roy Lechner Sr., 60, the father of the children, said that he urged police Tuesday night to take another look at the death of the younger son, even as he awaited answers about the death of the older boy.

"I just hope they can find out exactly what did happen," said Lechner, a heavy equipment mechanic and truck driver. "I just want the truth."

Police and paramedics were called about 1 p.m. Tuesday to the Lechners' home in the North Point area of Dundalk, where they found Roy Lechner Sr. performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the toddler. The boy was taken to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead, police said.

The 3-year-old had suspicious injuries on his abdomen, arms, legs and head, police wrote in charging documents filed in District Court in Towson. From the various stages of healing, it appeared to police officers that some of the injuries were suffered before Tuesday, detectives wrote in the court papers.

Denise Lechner told police that her son had been making noise, and that she struck him on the buttocks, causing him to fall down the basement stairs, according to the documents. She said that after the boy began crying and saying he was hurt, she put him on the sofa, gave him a pillow and covered him with a blanket and then returned to the basement to work on her computer, the documents state.

She told investigators that he stopped crying, but that when she came back upstairs about a half-hour later, he was unresponsive, according to the documents. Lechner said she started CPR and called 911 and her husband.

Roy Lechner Sr. was apparently not home at the time of the boy's fall, police said. No charges were filed against him. Denise Lechner, charged with child abuse resulting in death, was being held yesterday without bail, police said.

The couple's younger child, Donald Lechner, had been hospitalized Nov. 15 after he stopped breathing, said Robinson, the social service spokeswoman. Once he was stabilized and able to leave the hospital, he was placed in a therapeutic foster home, she said. She said social services went to court shortly afterward to ask that the boy be kept in foster care.

After the hearing, Robinson said, the boy was returned to his parents with a "safety plan," which can involve assigning others, such as family members, to be primary caretakers for children.

On Nov. 19, paramedics were called to the Lechner house because Donald was reported not breathing, according to police, who said the boy was later pronounced dead at Bayview.

Robinson said that after Donald's death, other court hearings were held to address Roy Jr.'s safety. She would not indicate exactly what social services recommended at those hearings, saying that officials were researching the positions the agency took.

She could not say how many hearings were held but said one occurred Nov. 22, and the most recent one took place last month.

Roy Lechner Sr. said he and his wife have been married for four years. He said yesterday that she can be cold and rarely shows emotion but that he had not thought she was capable of hurting their children.

Roy Lechner Jr. was in pre-school at Battle Grove Elementary in Dundalk. In a letter that went home to parents, principal Laurie Jones said grief counselors were at the school yesterday and would be available for students and staff this week.

An autopsy on the older Lechner boy was not complete yesterday afternoon, police said.