Sunday, May 20, 2018
Public safety

Tampa woman accused of granddaughter's death faced abuse inquiry before

TAMPA — The woman portrayed her granddaughter's death in the bathtub as a tragic mishap. But doctors saw puzzling wounds on 3-year-old Yanelli Vasquez.

They found bruises on Yanelli's back and forehead in various stages of healing. Some of them didn't match the account provided by the grandmother.

And evidence pointed to previous allegations of abuse against the grandmother, Carida "Charity" Cobb, 41, records show.

A Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office report released Monday provides new details about Yanelli's death on Dec. 13 and shows that Cobb had previously been investigated — and cleared — after a report that she beat the girl's 2-year-old brother.

Cobb, of 7213 S Juanita St. in Tampa, was arrested Friday and is being held in jail without bail on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse.

A week passed between Yanelli's death and Cobb's arrest while Tampa police awaited autopsy results, and then for Cobb to recover from an apparent suicide attempt. A day after the child's death, Cobb took a "large amount of pills," police said, and was hospitalized nearly a week.

Since 2011, Cobb has had "permanent guardianship" of Yanelli and her brother because of their mother's substance abuse and due to "environmental hazards and family violence," said the sheriff's child abuse report, produced for the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Four other children of the mother, Maria Vasquez, 27, live with another relative.

The records released Monday said investigators received a report in April 2012 that Cobb "beat the crap out of" Yanelli's brother because he was crying.

Cobb told investigators she had simply "popped" the boy three times on his bottom with an open hand to discipline him at school.

"Mrs. Cobb denied causing any injury and no evidence was observed when the child was seen by investigative officials," the report said. So the complaint was closed without action, though the report does not make clear what agency investigated.

On Monday, DCF and the Sheriff's Office declined comment.

At 4:45 p.m. Dec. 13, Cobb told investigators she left Yanelli in the tub unattended so she could start dinner. Cobb, the report said, suffers from multiple sclerosis and is in a wheelchair.

Cobb said she heard the child jumping and playing in the tub and told her to stop. She said Yanelli responded, "Yes, ma'am."

Then, Cobb said, she heard a noise. She called for Yanelli, getting no answer. So Cobb said she went back to the tub and found the girl face up, gasping.

Cobb said she reached for Yanelli but lost her balance, fell out of her wheelchair and toppled onto the girl. Still, Cobb said, she slapped the child's face to revive her and used CPR.

Emergency responders found "Mrs. Cobb straddling the toddler and attempting to revive her by shaking her," the report said. "Paramedics had to remove Yanelli from underneath Mrs. Cobb" so that they could try to save the child's life.

Investigators interviewed Cobb's 17-year-old daughter, who said she believed she had heard Cobb beating Yanelli before, including once during a bath. The daughter, whose name was not released, said she had not seen the beatings but could hear the girl crying and screaming.

The daughter said Cobb previously noted that Yanelli reminded her of the child's father. The daughter said Cobb had abused Yanelli's father when he was younger.

The report noted two prior complaints involving Yanelli's mother. In February 2011, someone reported Vasquez's kids playing in an open, third-floor window. The complaint was unsubstantiated. And in July 2011, authorities received a complaint that Vasquez left her children home alone during "extended periods" when she was out drinking or using drugs.

She tested positive for cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy, oxycodone and methamphetamine, the report said, and lost custody of her kids.

Times staff writer Dan Sullivan contributed to this report.

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