KRISTI LEITMA

Kristi Leitma

WOODSTOCK – A judge convicted a man Wednesday on charges related to the tossing o a toddler into a creek while running from police through Strasburg in August.

Kyle Steven Sunday appeared in Shenandoah County Circuit Court where he stood charged with child neglect, eluding law enforcement, destruction of property and a third offense of driving on a revoked or suspended license.

Sunday, 29, of Haymarket, pleaded no contest to all four charges. The court reduced Sunday’s charge of destruction of property from a felony to a Class 3 misdemeanor under an agreement reach between Commonwealth’s Attorney Amanda Wiseley and his defense counsel Ryan Nuzzo.

The agreement also called for Sunday to receive a specific punishment. Retired Judge Dennis L. Hupp accepted Sunday’s pleas and found him guilty of the four offenses. Hupp sentenced Sunday to five years in a state penitentiary – the maximum punishment allowed under state law – for one count of child neglect. Hupp suspended the sentence in its entirety and ordered Sunday to complete two years of supervised probation.

Hupp also sentenced Sunday to five years in prison, with three years and six months suspended, leaving the defendant with one year and six months to serve on a charge of eluding police. The judge sentenced Sunday to 12 months in jail with all but the mandatory minimum of 10 days to serve for driving on a revoked or suspended license. Hupp imposed a fine of $500 and suspended the amount for the destruction of property charge.

Sunday said he had spent 11 months in jail since his arrest on the Shenandoah County charges in August. Sunday said he was on probation when the Aug. 18 offenses occurred so Hupp advised the defendant he could face serving previously suspended time for violating the terms of his release on the earlier charges out of Prince William County.

Wiseley provided a summary of the evidence she planned to present had the case gone to trial. Sunday fled Strasburg police officer Mala Bansal on Aug. 13 as she attempted to make a traffic stop while on routine patrol in town, Wiseley explained. Sunday led police through town before he stopped and fled on foot, carrying his 2-year-old child in his arms, according to Wiseley’s synopsis. Bansal told Sunday to stop, Wiseley said.

Other officers joined to aid in the search for Sunday and the child, Wiseley said. Officer Terry Orndorff went to search for Sunday using the description provided. Orndorff encountered a person on John Marshal Highway who said someone matching the suspect’s description had been walking with a small child on Mineral Street, Wiseley said. Orndorff drove on Mineral Street and saw a man matching the suspect’s description walking hand-in-hand with a child who appeared to be approximately 2 years old, Wiseley went on to say.

As the officer moved closer to Sunday, the defendant picked up the child and jumped over an embankment into an area of trees by a creek, Wiseley said. The officer following Sunday exited his police vehicle and went toward the embankment where he saw the defendant jump. The officer continued to pursue Sunday and told the defendant several times to stop, Wiseley said.

“When the defendant saw the officer standing there he actually then took the small child he was holding and threw him in the direction of officer Orndorff,” Wiseley said, adding that the boy traveled about 10 feet and landed in the creek.

Sunday fled in the opposite direction of the officer, the prosecutor said.

Orndorff stopped his pursuit to attend to the child and another person nearby came to help, Wiseley said. Emergency medical technicians also responded to the scene. The child suffered cuts to his face and other parts of his body from the brush along the embankment, Wiseley said. The child’s clothing was also wet from landing in the creek.

While other officers continued to search for Sunday, the child’s mother, identified as Kristi Ann Leitma, called emergency dispatch and reported her vehicle and her child had been stolen, Wiseley said. Bansal told Leitma the defendant had stolen the vehicle. Leitma gave several stories to the officer as to why she was in the area, Wiseley said. Leitma eventually told Bansal she was in Strasburg with the defendant, initially denying that she knew Sunday was in town, according to Wiseley’s synopsis. Leitma also told the officer the vehicle had not been stolen, that she had gone to 7-Eleven and Sunday drove the car to Food Lion, and that he was to drive back and pick her up. Leitma stated that Sunday is the child’s father.

Child Protective Services workers with the Department of Social Services arrived and then released the toddler to Leitma, Wiseley said. Shortly after, two officers saw Leitma walking from Fox’s Pizza on North Massanutten Street toward Washington Street. Leitma had told officers multiple times she did not know Sunday. The officers then decided to follow Leitma to see if she led them to Sunday, Wiseley said. The officers saw Leitma running with the child in her arms and, at times, cutting through people’s yards heading toward the Madison Heights neighborhood, the prosecutor said. When the officers encountered Leitma, she directed them to a residence on East Fairchild Drive, Wiseley said. Officers waited until they saw two people come out of the residence, later identified as the homeowners. The residents told officers Sunday, whom they identified as a  friend of theirs, was inside the home, Wiseley added.

Officers set up a perimeter and tried to get Sunday to come to the door but had to force their way in after about an hour, Wiseley said. When officers went to the second floor of the house, they saw a chair and insulation in the hallway under an entrance to the attic, Wiseley said. Officers opened the attic door and called out to the defendant for approximately 15 minutes come down, she said. Sunday didn’t respond. Officers, fearing for their safety, called the Warren County Sheriff’s Office and requested the agency bring a K-9 to help.

A deputy living nearby arrived with his K-9 and ascended into the attic, followed by town officers, Wiseley said. The dog found Sunday lying hidden under the blown insulation. A struggle ensued involving two officers and Sunday. Drywall in the ceiling under the attic gave way and the officers had to hang on to the rafters to keep from falling through the hole, Wiseley said. At that point, an officer reached up and placed a handcuff on one of the defendant’s arms and pulled Sunday from the attic to place him in custody, Wiseley added.

Attorneys agreed to reduce the destruction of property charge from a felony to a misdemeanor because the homeowners would not provide the prosecutor’s office with an estimated cost of damage to the house to determine restitution.

Nuzzo explained to Hupp why the defendant pleaded no contest to the charges.

“Had this matter gone to trial, my client would have disputed that he threw his child in any way into the river but that, in pleading no contest, he acknowledges that fleeing from the scene with the child would meet that requirement for sure,” Nuzzo said.

The defense attorney said, through his own investigation after the incident, the mother reported that the child was “fine” and unharmed.

Leitma was found guilty in Shenandoah County General District Court on Oct. 23 on misdemeanor charges of filing a false report to law enforcement, obstruction of justice without force, acting as an accessory to a felony after the fact and authorizing a person with a suspended or revoked license to operate a motor vehicle. Leitma was sentenced to 12 months in jail with 10 months suspended for filing a false police report; 12 months with 11 months suspended for obstruction of justice and 60 days, all suspended, for allowing a person with a revoked or suspended license to use a motor vehicle.

– Contact Alex Bridges at abridges@nvdaily.com