Scorned Cottage Grove mom sets self ablaze

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 10, 2012 - 12:13 AM

Called "vodka mom" on national TV after suffocating her infant son while drunk, the Cottage Grove woman died of her injuries.

A 29-year-old Cottage Grove woman set herself afire and died just weeks after being ridiculed as "vodka mom" on national television for drunkenly rolling onto and asphyxiating her three-week-old son in November.

Toni Medrano died at 11:30 p.m. Saturday at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, said Don Gorrie, a spokesman for the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's office. The cause and manner of death are under investigation, Gorrie said.

Medrano doused herself in a flammable liquid on July 2 and lit her body on fire in her mother's backyard in St. Paul Park at 4:01 a.m., said Police Chief Michael Monahan. Medrano was "despondent and suicidal over personal issues," he said.

Medrano was charged last month in Washington County with two counts of manslaughter in the death of Adrian Alexander Medrano, who was born Nov. 1. The infant died of asphyxia Nov. 22.

County Attorney Pete Orput said he was saddened by the news and until now believed Medrano had been seeking the county's help for chemical dependency and parenting counseling. "She chose a permanent solution to a temporary problem," Orput said.

According to the criminal complaint filed last month, the baby's father came home Nov. 21 to find his wife drunk and sleeping on the couch with the boy and warned her against such behavior. The next morning, Medrano woke her husband, yelling, "JJ, the baby is dead."

Jason Medrano went downstairs and called 911 about 10:30 a.m. The criminal complaint said police arrived to find the father trying to resuscitate the boy, who wasn't breathing and was already cold to the touch. The baby was pronounced dead at Woodwinds Hospital in Woodbury.

Medrano admitted to drinking a fifth of vodka in the hours leading up to her son's death, according to the criminal complaint. Medrano also told police she had gone to bed at midnight, but woke at 3 a.m. and fed the baby formula. She woke three more times and spoke with her other children, but did not leave the couch.

A preliminary blood-alcohol test by police showed Medrano at .11 percent. The legal limit for driving is .08 percent.

About a week after she was charged, flame-throwing CNN talk-show host Nancy Grace featured the case on her show. Grace held up a fifth of cheap vodka and said she was going to see how many glasses she could get out of the bottle.

She poured at least nine as the words "vodka mom" appeared on the screen.

Grace said during the show that she had attempted to contact Medrano at her house. She then spoke to a reporter from her show and two officials unfamiliar with the case as she theorized that Medrano had been sleeping on her child for hours. "There was a long period of time that baby's life could have been saved," Grace said.

She said the baby was purple and one guest theorized that was from a "pooling of blood" because he had been dead for so long. "Why no murder one charges?" Grace asked, referring to the charge for premeditated murder.

Calls and e-mails seeking comment from Grace's network and show weren't answered Monday.

Medrano apparently lit the fire that killed her while at her mother's home in the 1200 block of Chicago Av. S. in St. Paul Park, a quiet street of ramblers and full, tall trees. Her mother, Yvonne Hill, declined to comment Monday, citing the advice of her lawyer.

Maria Phillips, Medrano's younger sister, said Medrano was "shaking and couldn't take a breath" as she watched Grace's show. "She got depressed and said life wasn't worth living. She said she couldn't live with herself."

The death is under investigation, Monahan said.

Medrano lived with her husband and older children about 10 minutes from her mother in Cottage Grove. Children's scooters sat on the front porch along with weight-lifting equipment. On Monday, the door to their townhouse was decorated with pictures and children's artwork along with a quotation from popular self-help author Nathaniel Branden's book, "Psychology of Romantic Love," which read:

"We must learn that if heroism and strength mean anything, it is the willingness to face reality, to face truth, to respect facts, to accept that which is, is."

Grace is known for her guilty-until-proven-otherwise approach to crime-fighting. She focuses on crimes involving women and children.

Orput said regardless of what Grace said, Medrano made the choice to kill herself.

The Nancy Grace show featuring Medrano can be seen at www.startribune.com/a1500.

Staff writer Chao Xiong contributed to this report. Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035 Twitter: @rochelleolson

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