Couple smoke marijuana as their autistic child wanders away to drown, police say

Stephen Nartey October 18, 2023
Lester Ortiz, 39, and Barbara Ruiz, 37. Photo: Seminole County Jail

A couple were apprehended after their autistic child wandered away and drowned in a retaining pond within their apartment complex. It was at least the fourth time the child had left the residence on his own.

Officers responding to the incident noted that the parents, Barbara Ruiz and Lester Ortiz, had bloodshot eyes and smelled of marijuana use when they arrived at the scene. Ortiz had reported their 3-year-old son, Ethan Ortiz Ruiz, missing around 30 minutes earlier.

Both parents now face aggravated manslaughter charges. The officers also observed a strong smell of freshly smoked marijuana inside the family’s home while searching for the child, whose lifeless body was discovered floating in a pond just behind their apartment approximately 20 minutes later, as reported by the New York Post.

According to a police report, Ethan was rushed to Lake Monroe Hospital in Sanford, where he was later declared dead. Police reveal that the boy had left his apartment without his parents’ knowledge on at least three previous occasions.

Twice, Ethan was assisted by observant neighbors who noticed him wandering unattended within the apartment complex and brought him to the front office. On a separate occasion in March, a staff member from the apartment complex alerted the police upon spotting Ethan outside alone. Ortiz, Ethan’s parent, explained that he had unintentionally fallen asleep and was unaware of the child’s departure.

During their visit to the apartment, the police observed that the boy had the ability to open the front door independently, despite the additional safety measures in place to prevent such actions. Subsequently, the police reached out to Seminole County Child Protective Services, recommending that the agency dispatch an investigator for further follow-up.

Following a discussion with the parents on Saturday, the police have charged both of them with aggravated manslaughter of a child. If convicted, Ruiz and Ortiz may face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Ortiz, who was described as “sweating profusely,” was hospitalized due to a health concern, while Ruiz was arrested without any issues and was detained at the John E. Polk Correctional Facility. Both individuals are being held on $25,000 bonds.

Both Ortiz and Ruiz disclosed to the police that they possess state-issued medical marijuana cards and use marijuana regularly.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: October 18, 2023


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