A Belle Chasse woman has been booked with killing her 17-month-old son, injecting the hand sanitizer Germ-X into the body of a toddler who was born with Down syndrome and a heart defect. Lucas Ruiz died Jan. 24 from alcohol poisoning, in what his mother, Erika Wigstrom, 20, described to detectives as a mercy killing.
The official cause of death is "acute ethanol intoxication," according to the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's Office. The active ingredient in Germ-X is ethyl alcohol, the product's website says. Deputies arrested Wigstrom on Tuesday after she confessed to killing the child because she didn't want him to suffer anymore, authorities said. The family had written in his obituary that Lucas died "while cradled in the arms of his beloved mother."
She also confessed that she previously gave the child perfume, a crime with which her former boyfriend and Lucas' father, Cesar Ruiz, already is charged, according to the Sheriff's Office."From what I gathered from the detectives, they basically said she had no remorse," said Cmdr. Eric Becnel, a Sheriff's Office spokesman.
Wigstrom, of 110 Xi St., is being held without bond in the Belle Chasse lock-up. During her bond hearing in magistrate court Wednesday afternoon, she broke down in tears as Judge Michael Clement of the 25th Judicial District began to read the first-degree murder statute.
The charge is applicable because of Lucas' age. Prosecutors have not told the court whether they will seek a death sentence, a possible punishment for first-degree murder.
Relatives were in the courtroom but declined to address the judge. A public defender will represent Wigstrom, Clement said.
Plaquemines authorities learned of Lucas' death after they were contacted Jan. 24 for what was initially viewed as a medical emergency at Wigstrom's home. Lucas, who was "breathless and pulseless" there, was rushed to Ochsner Medical Center's Gretna campus then transferred to Children's Hospital in New Orleans, where he was pronounced dead on arrival, according to the Sheriff's Office.
The Jefferson Parish coroner's office, which conducted the autopsy, found that Lucas' blood-alcohol content was 0.280, about four times the legal limit for an adult to drive in Louisiana. Plaquemines detectives received the autopsy report last week, Becnel said.
"With the evidence and the age of the child, we believe we have a strong case," Becnel said.
The child's father, Ruiz, 20, also of Belle Chasse, awaits trial in Jefferson 24th Judicial District Court on a charge of second-degree cruelty to a juvenile. He's accused of giving Lucas rum in October 2012, when the child was 2 months old and a patient at Ochsner Medical Center in Jefferson.
In that incident, the child's blood-alcohol content was 0.289 percent, Jefferson authorities said. They said Ruiz confessed to administering rum as a pain reliever but that he told them he did not intend to harm the child.
Wigstrom told Jefferson detectives that Ruiz had said their son "would be better off dead, and that he wished he (the child) would die during his upcoming heart surgery," according to Ruiz's arrest report. In addition to Downs syndrome, Lucas was born with three holes in his heart, according to records in his father's criminal case.
The child had been hospitalized at Ochsner for breathing difficulties, and was scheduled to have heart surgery in late October 2012. He began having seizures there, leading to the discovery of alcohol in his blood.
It was during that stay, Jefferson detectives said, that Ruiz took an empty sugar container from the hospital and filled it with rum at his Belle Chasse home. He returned to the hospital and, while Wigstrom was out of the room, poured the rum into his son's feeding tube.Ruiz lived with his son and Wigstrom on Xi Street before his arrest. He is now held in the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center in Gretna. According to Lucas' obituary, Wigstrom was engaged to another man.
Before she was arrested Tuesday, Wigstrom told detectives that Ruiz didn't give Lucas alcohol. Rather, she said, she herself had given her child perfume over a period of days, leading to the seizures.
Ruiz's attorney, Michael Ciaccio, would not comment Wednesday on how Wigstrom's allegations would affect his client's case.
The Jefferson district attorney's office would not say whether Wigstrom's confession would affect their case. "I can't comment, because it's an open case," Assistant District Attorney Margaret Hay said.
Becnel said the Jefferson Sheriff's Office is involved in the investigation of Wigstrom.