A final placement hearing took place on Tuesday afternoon, June 26, 2012 in Nolan County with Judge David Hall presiding, for Angel Flores, the toddler who was abandoned on Interstate 20 in Nolan County last year. Many parties were present at the hearing including Angel’s attorney, Paul Hanneman; Angel’s great-uncle, Jose Angel Estrada; attorney for Angel’s biological mother, Jeanie Fuller; Angel’s step mother, Isabel Serna; Don Meador with the Department of Family and Protective Services, Child Protective Services attorney Bill Jones; attorney for Carlos Rico -- Angel’s father, who abandoned him on Interstate 20 on Tuesday, June 28, 2011 -- Chris Hartman; and Rico on speaker phone from North Texas State Hospital; along with several others there to support Angel.
An agreement was made by all parties involved that Estrada, along with Angel’s biological mother — Dana Campos, who lives in California — would be joint managing conservators for Angel, but that Estrada would be Angel’s primary guardian and Angel would live with him in Lubbock. It was proposed that Campos will have to participate in a stair step program, visiting Angel for several supervised sessions in his county of residence before she could go back to the standard possession order. She will also have to pay $100 per month to Estrada for child support for Angel. It was determined that Rico would have his parental rights terminated indefinitely with a voluntary relinquishment and no contact order put into place.
Many involved in the case wanted to be sure that Angel would always be protected, including Judge Hall, who questioned Estrada on the stand, making sure that Rico would never have contact with Angel of any sort. “I will do whatever I have to and make sure he is safe,” said Estrada.
Meador was also put on the stand and stated that he believed it was in Angel’s best interest to reside with Estrada and his family. Angel has been living with Estrada for the past month and is said to be “happy” to be there, according to Estrada. “We have a big house and big yard and it is all his. Everyone in the family loves him and does everything they can to make him happy,” he said.
Estrada owns two restaurants and several apartments in Lubbock County. He assured the court that he was financially and emotionally able to care for Angel and was willing to accept the responsibility of being a parent to Angel. “I am raising him as my own son,” he added.
Attorney for Angel, Hanneman, questioned Estrada about the relationship between Angel and his step mother, Serna. “She is like his mother and has been his mother most of his life,” he said.
Serna has two other children, Angel’s brothers, and now lives in Lubbock in one of Estrada’s apartments and works in one of Estrada’s restaurants, making it possible for her to be in Angel’s life and care for him as well, continuing to be the mother figure in his life. Hanneman wanted to make sure that Estrada would not keep Angel from Serna or his brothers. “She visits every day and cares for him when she is not working and I am working. She lives about 10 minutes away and is there for him,” said Estrada.
It was also noted by Meador that a home study was conducted and that Estrada passed with flying colors. Hanneman also stated that he visited with his client, Angel Flores, a day before the hearing and said that he is doing well and that he agrees Angel would “approve of this agreement.”
This happy ending for Sweetwater’s Angel comes almost exactly one year from the terrible ordeal he endured on Tuesday, June 28, 2011, in Nolan County. The child was found at 6:30 a.m. near the Highway 70 split on the east side of Sweetwater. When turning onto Interstate 20 early that Tuesday morning, the last thing Sweetwater high school basketball coach Al Hunt and his son expected to see in the middle of the road was a child.
Yet standing on the dangerous freeway was 4-year-old Angel Flores.
The coach scooped up Angel and called police. That’s when former Sweetwater Chief of Police Jim Kelley says they brought the boy to the emergency room and in a hurry.
“Because he has hundreds and hundreds of cactus in him,” said Kelley. “At one point we heard that they had counted four to five hundred of them.”
After word of Angel’s rescue spread through social media, the Saginaw Police Department informed Sweetwater that a man named Carlos Rico had turned himself in and admitted to leaving Angel.
“We understand the father was in route from Lubbock back to Saginaw to live with family members due to marital problems and he had a religious experience and threw him out of the car into a pasture,” said Kelley. “He said that this was around 3 a.m. on Tuesday morning, so Angel was alone for at least three and a half hours before he was found.”
Rico was initially charged with child endangerment that were later upgraded to attempted capital murder by the Sweetwater Police Department. He was later acquitted of those charges, as he was found to be mentally incompetent at the time of the abandonment.
Angel had found support in the Sweetwater community with many people having called and gone in to the police department wanting to bring clothes and toys to Angel. “So many people were touched by Angel’s story and wanted to help,” said Kelley. “It just shows the heart of this community in wanting to help a child that they don’t even know. Just knowing that a child is in need drives the community to do whatever they can to help.”
Estrada and Serna were both very happy about the outcome of the hearing. “We are really excited and he (Angel) is very excited, too,” they said.