CANTON — One grandmother was sentenced to jail and probation Tuesday morning in connection with the death of her 5-year-old grandson in a residential fire, while the boy’s other grandmother remembered him as “an angel on earth” for the 1,970 days he was alive.
Shari L. Caza, 56, of 5779 Route 56, Apt. 1, was originally scheduled to be sentenced to six months in the St. Lawrence County jail and five years of probation for her July 24 guilty plea to felony criminally negligent homicide and misdemeanor endangering the welfare of a child, in a plea deal with the district attorney’s office.
Instead, County Court Judge Jerome J. Richards sentenced Ms. Caza to jail time on the weekends of Oct. 25, Nov. 22, Dec. 20 and Jan. 17, where she will have to report at 5 p.m. that Friday and be released at 9 a.m. the following Monday.
On Feb. 22, 2017, in the town of Massena, Ms. Caza, through criminal negligence, caused the death of her grandson Aiden M. Riley, when she put him in an upstairs bedroom at the Caza residence at 2224 Route 420 and locked the bedroom door from the outside; the door could not be opened from the inside.
Caza shook and sobbed throughout the proceeding, with her emotions enhanced throughout Chief Assistant District Attorney Jason M. Marx’s reading of the victim impact statements submitted by Aiden’s mother, Jordan White, and his maternal grandmother, Patricia Olson.
Ms. Olson, who sat in the courtroom throughout the proceeding, called Aiden “a cherished child who was loved deeply by his family and friends . . . and he loved them back.”
“He was the best part of our family,” she said. “His death brings and emptiness that can never be filled. For 1,970 days he was an angel on earth and they were the best 1,970 (days) of our lives.”
“When this first happened, I wanted to die,” Ms. White wrote in her statement. “The actions of Shari Caza and Michael Riley ended my son’s life and changed mine forever.”
Michael J. Riley, 31, Aiden’s father, was sentenced on Oct. 7 to weekends in jail for having violated a St. Lawrence County Family Court order involving his son, indicating that he not allow any third party to consume, or be under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription drugs not prescribed to him by a physician, or marijuana in the child’s home or wherever the child is physically present, or within 48 hours prior to being in the child’s presence.
Judge Richards said the order of protection that Mr. Riley violated was put in place to protect his son, which included not to have alcohol, which he said Ms. Caza was consuming with a boyfriend and a friend who he called a “raging alcoholic.”
Ms. White wrote in her statement that when she was allowed to walk through Ms. Caza’s home following the fire and her son’s death, she found it strewn with beer cans and marijuana cigarettes.
“I want Shari to learn from this, that we can never get Aiden back,” Ms. White wrote. “We won’t see Aiden on the first day of school, we won’t see him playing sports. I think Shari loves Aiden, but I don’t think she comprehends that the company she keeps and the situation she put Aiden in, will result in such a bad thing happening.”
Ms. Caza’s attorney, Jamie E. Dening, said Ms. Caza was remorseful and was dealing with severe mental disabilities for which she was taking eight different medications. He said a year after Aiden’s death, she began treatment to deal with her long time alcohol dependency, maintaining her sobriety throughout her court case.
Ms. Caza declined to speak when given the opportunity, until Mr. Denng urged her to say something and coached her along.
“I’m sorry. It was a tragedy. I am very remorseful,” she said, each statement following her attorney in her ear.
Judge Richards said he was disappointed that in the face of the death of her grandson, Ms. Caza would rely on her attorney to tell her what to say.
“She doesn’t know what is or isn’t proper to say,” Mr. Dening said, pointing to her medications and mental health.
“I do feel bad,” Ms. Caza joined in, he voice nearly inaudible as she cried. “There was a lot of chaos that night . . .”
At 9:56 p.m. on the day of Aiden’s death, first responders received a report of a structure fire with entrapment at Ms. Caza’s residence after a fire reportedly broke out in the upstairs hallway near the child’s bedroom shortly after he was put to bed.
Sheriff’s deputies reported that they, along with state police, were able to remove the downstairs occupants from the home.
The Massena Volunteer Fire Department responded to the fire and entered the home with air packs, locating Aiden in the upstairs bedroom. He was taken by the Massena Rescue Squad to Massena Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 10:38 p.m.
Judge Richards told Ms. Caza she was the one responsible for the chaos calling the child’s death “totally and utterly senseless.”