The Flint Journal, June 23, 1998

Dad charged in death of girl, 3--
Man accused of beating, sexually abusing daughter

By Paul Janczewski, Journal Staff writer

Mundy Twp. -- Neighbors recall 3-year-old Heather Zavoda riding her bicycle up and down the streets of the mobile home park where she lived. She was excited because she had just befriended the girls next door, one neighbor said.

But Heather, who was on life support, died Monday afternoon at Hurley Medical Center and her father, Wayne E. Zavada, 28, is being held on murder and criminal sexual conduct charges in her death. The girl suffered severe head and facial injuries, Genesee County Prosecutor Arthur A. Busch said today.

"This is an extremely brutal and vicious murder," Busch said."It defies explanation."

Although police and prosecutors routinely see child abuse victims, this was extreme, he said. Busch said child protective services workers told him they have contacted the family in the past about child abuse in the home. The case will prompt a review of current child abuse procedures, but it appears the system worked, he said.

"We have to become more aggressive and vigilant in spotting child abuse in our community," Busch said.Many cases are never reported. Zavada, who also goes by the name Wayne Zavoda, according to Secretary of State records, was arraigned Monday before Central District Judge Christopher R. Odette on charges of murder, first-degree criminal sexual conduct, and first degree child abuse, a 15-year felony.

If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison. He is being held without bond in the Genesee County jail. Mundy Township Police Detective Tom Melrose said police became aware of the incident Saturday when they were called to the Chateau Torrey Hills Trailer Park, where an employee of the state Family Independence Agency was taking custody of Zavada's 7-month-old son.

Police then learned the boy's 3-year-old sister had been taken to Hurley Medical Center by her mother Saturday and admitted unconscious to the pediatrics intensive care unit at Hurley, Melrose told Odette.On Saturday, Zavada voluntarily went to the Mundy Township police station with his wife and son, and police attempted to talk to him about his daughter's condition. Zavada refused to make a statement, but the child's mother told police she left the child with her husband for nearly five hours on Friday and when she returned, the child appeared sleepy and was put to bed. Police continue to seek witnesses or others with information by calling Melrose at 655-4646.

A neighbor said her 12-year-old son was questioned by police after he saw Zavada slap his daughter on Friday. "He saw that guy slap her in the back of the head, knock her off her bike and kick her in the head," said Ruth Honeycutt, who lives next door."It was a while later she came back out and he slapped her in the head again and she fell down."

The mother told police Heather awakened about 3 a.m. Saturday shaking, but again fell asleep. But later that morning, her eyes were rolling back in her head, she was frothing at the mouth and had a bloody nose, the mother told police.

Zavada refused to allow her to call 911, so she took Heather to Hurley, the mother told police.

Melrose said doctors examined the child and found signs of sexual abuse. Hurley doctors told police they found evidence the child had been sexually abused in the past, and attributed her death to the delay in her obtaining medical treatment and a seizure, causing bleeding on her brain, Melrose told Odette.

The charges surprised neighbors, who said Zavada and his wife kept to themselves.

Scott James, 36, said he didn't know Zavada but said he used to see him in the driveway working on cars often. "I seen him out in the yard with the kids and it didn't seem like he was authoritative, you know, overzealous," James said. Zavada faces a pre-trial hearing Monday and a possible preliminary examination before Central District Judge John L. Conover next Tuesday.

(Journal staff writer Laura Bailey contributed to this report.)

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