Toddlers drowned 1 day before relatives were to get custody

LA MESA, Calif. — Two toddlers who died while under their mother’s care in La Mesa on Monday were one day away from going to live with their jailed father’s relatives, it was reported.

The mother of Jason Bradford, 2, and his 16-month-old sister, Harley, said she found the toddlers floating face-down in a backyard swimming pool of a family friend’s home in the 10000 block of Sunset Avenue shortly after 9:30 a.m. Monday, according to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

The toddlers’ paternal grandfather, Pat Bradford, told U-T San Diego their father’s cousin sought to take in the children and was supposed to gain custody of them on Tuesday. The father, Jason Bradford, is currently serving a 60-month federal prison sentence in Phoenix for conspiracy to traffic methamphetamine, according to court and prison records.

“We’re aware of the custody issues going on with (the mother), related to the kids,” sheriff’s Lt. Glenn Giannantonio told U-T San Diego. “We’re going to look at every angle.”

On Monday, the toddlers’ mother, Tassie Behrens, 26, and an unidentified male companion drove the unconscious toddlers to a nearby fire station. Harley was pronounced dead at Sharp Grossmont Hospital a short time later. Jason was transferred from Sharp to Rady Children’s Hospital, where he died about shortly before 11:30 p.m.

“Sheriff’s investigators will be meeting with the District Attorney’s Office to determine if any criminal charges will be filed relating to the deaths of the children,” Giannantonio said.

Behrens first told investigators the drownings had occurred at a mobile- home park in Spring Valley, but later admitted she lied because she didn’t want her friend to get in trouble for not having a fence around the pool, Giannantonio said.

During a search of the house — where the mother and her children had been staying for several days — deputies came across a marijuana-growing setup in a basement area and called in Narcotics Task Force personnel to investigate, he said.

A resident of the home, Larry Dangelo, 44, was arrested and pleaded not guilty Wednesday to several charges, including two counts of child abuse, manufacturing a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance, cultivating marijuana, possession of marijuana for sale, grand theft and two counts of tampering with electric lines.

The child abuse counts relate to the drug charges and not the deaths, a prosecutor told U-T San Diego.