A woman arrested early last week after taking a 4-year-old boy off the street in Winton was found dead in her county jail cell Friday morning, according to a statement released by the Merced County Sheriff's Department on Monday.
Glenda Smith, 40, committed suicide while in custody at the Merced jail, the department said.
Smith had been charged in Merced County Superior Court last Wednesday with felony child endangerment and a felony enhancement connected to a pending child endangerment case, but not with kidnapping. On March 7 Smith, according to witnesses and the police, took a 4-year-old boy off the street in Winton after he was seen alone there. She then drove, with the boy on her lap, to the Atwater Police Department where she was arrested.
"It's clear that initially she was acting to try to prevent this little boy from being injured," said Bruce Gilbert, the felony-charging deputy with the Merced County District Attorney's Office.
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Smith pleaded not guilty to all charges.
While the sheriff's department announced an apparent suicide Friday morning, spokesman Tom MacKenzie said the department wouldn't release the name of the victim until this week, since the family hadn't yet been notified and the incident was still under investigation. The Sun-Star independently identified Smith as the suicide victim Friday, but didn't release her name because her family hadn't been notified of her death.
Smith's brother, Robert Johnson, said Friday he hadn't been notified whether his sister had died in jail. As for the alleged kidnapping, Johnson said his sister had some mental health issues, but "I can't see my sister kidnapping a kid."
Gilbert said Smith wasn't charged with kidnapping since the evidence didn't support such a charge. After interviewing all the witnesses, it appeared that wasn't Smith's intent, Gilbert said. The child endangerment charge was warranted since Smith drove erratically at an unsafe speed through several red lights, all the while with the boy on her lap, said Gilbert.
Mary Ann Flores, who witnessed the Winton incident, said she saw the child alone in the middle of the street and even yelled at him to move. Then Flores saw Smith put the boy into her car. "I believe she just had poor judgment in taking him into her car, but I don't believe she tried to kidnap him," Flores said.
The Winton incident was reported around 4:30 p.m. March 7, in the 6400 block of Cypress Avenue in Winton, according to MacKenzie.
The boy was riding his bike when Smith, a Winton resident, drove up in a van, stopped the vehicle and grabbed him. Witnesses said Smith cupped her hand around the boy's mouth and dragged him kicking and screaming into the van, MacKenzie said.
Witnesses immediately called the sheriff's department, MacKenzie said, and one of the witnesses was able to follow the woman and relay her whereabouts to law enforcement.
The boy's mother, who wasn't present during the episode, had also called law enforcement after realizing her son was missing.
As Atwater police was dispatching its officers, Smith pulled into the department's headquarters at 750 Bellevue Road. Police went to the van and took Smith into custody. The boy was recovered unharmed.
Under questioning, Smith told detectives she saw the boy was alone and had pulled over to take him to the police department because she was concerned. Detectives at the time believed, however, Smith intended all along to kidnap the boy -- and only pulled into the police department's parking lot after realizing she was being followed and couldn't escape.
Reporter Victor A. Patton contributed to this report.
Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at (209) 385-2484 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.