‘She was the strongest person I ever met’: Mother who filed wrongful death lawsuit against Children’s Receiving Home speaks out

Local News

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — The mother of a 12-year-old girl who was hit and killed on Business 80 last January is speaking out after filing a lawsuit against Sacramento County and the foster home her daughter walked away from the night of her death.

Michele Bryant describes how she found out her 12-year-old daughter, Kendra Czekaj, who was in the care of the Children’s Receiving Home in Sacramento at the time, died on the night of Jan. 15, 2020.

“There was a Post-it, and it was from the Sacramento Coroner’s telling me to contact them about a recent death,” Bryant remembered. “My first thought was, ‘It’s Kendra.'”  

Bryant has filed a complaint against Sacramento County and the children’s care home for the wrongful death of her daughter, alleging negligence and dangerous conditions there.

According to the complaint, Czekaj was at the Children’s Receiving Home for just 11 days before the tragic accident happened.

The complaint says Czekaj walked out of the home at night with other children and was hit by a car as she tried to cross Business 80 just behind the facility.

“It’s a breakdown in the duties and obligations of the county and what they’re supposed to be doing when they take kids out of their homes and place them in either temporary or foster care,” said attorney Jeff Schaff. “This place was not safe for children.” 

According to the complaint, as a result of chronic understaffing, poor training and the failure to implement services and incentives for children to remain at the facility, children leaving CRH has been a daily occurrence.

According to a 2017 Sacramento County Grand Jury report, CRH has reported thousands of children leaving its facility in the five years prior and has become the leading source of missing persons reports for the entire state of California.

The facility responded to the lawsuit, saying in part, “An investigation by CRH’s state licensing authority, the Community Care Licensing Division of the California Department of Social Services, reported on May 15, 2020, that CRH had appropriately followed its state-approved protocols during events leading up to Kendra’s death. No citations were issued against CRH.”

“It’s a breakdown that culminated in the death of a child, by all accounts was a beautiful, strong soul,” Schaff explained.

According to Bryant, Czekaj was a survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of her own father who is now in prison.

She was taken from her dad’s home and placed at the CRH.

Bryant and her attorney claim the county insisted Czekaj first get treatment and receive counseling for her depression and trauma, which they claim the county never provided.

All the while, Bryant wanted her daughter home with her. 

“She’s like, I don’t want to be there mom. I’m like, well you just have a couple more days. You’re gonna come home soon. We held hands, walked out of Target, and she told me she wants to come home,” Bryant said.

Brant says she then drove her back to CRH. 

That was the last time she saw her daughter alive.

“She wanted to help anybody that she could. She was the strongest person I ever met,” Bryant told FOX40. 

Bryant said she’s filed the complaint to help prevent other parents from going through any ordeal and to better protect children in the county’s care.

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