Gasoa Balas took a plea.
So now we know where he’ll spend the next 32 years: He’ll do 20 years for the reckless flight from police that cost his daughter her life. And he’ll then do 12 more for the terrible night he held down his girlfriend, cut her flesh and her hair with scissors and stuffed her hair into her mouth as his traumatized daughter watched.
But while we now know what happened those two awful days — haunting questions remain.
Those questions go to the heart of Arizona’s failure to protect its children from the chaos, abuse and neglect that finally claimed the life of six-year-old Calandra.
Consider the sequence of events.
In August of 2011, Balas and his girlfriend of five months got into an argument about his disciplining of his toddler daughter. We do not know what became of Calandra’s mother, but she apparently abandoned her daughter to Balas’ keeping. Balas and his girlfriend got into a shouting match. He went to bed. She woke him at 3 a.m. to continue the argument and he brutalized her. He knocked her down, cut her with a pair of scissors, hacked off her hair and stuffed it down her throat. All while Calandra looked on helplessly.
Now comes the haunting question: Where was Child Protective Services?
Gov. Jan Brewer is currently resisting calls for a special session of the Legislature to deal with the scandalous report that CPS in the past four years classified as “not investigated” more than 6,000 reports of abuse and neglect. The agency’s investigators have caseloads 77 percent greater than the national standard. A backlog of some 10,000 cases have awaited investigation for more than the two-month limit allowed.
Every one of those cases could hide another Calandra.
Relatives speaking off the record said they repeatedly sought help from Child Protective Services. Balas had a history of drug abuse and other crimes. Some friends said he loved his daughter and wanted to keep her with him. Even if that’s true, why on earth would the system leave Calandra with him after that brutal night in 2011?
We don’t know.
We do know that he still had custody of her a year later, when a woman called police to say that Balas had assaulted her in a Payson mobile home park. When police arrived, Balas fled — with Calandra in the back seat. He hit speeds up to 100 miles an hour before he crashed. Calandra was flung from the car as it rolled, and she died at the scene. He had his seat belt on and suffered only minor injuries — although when he discovered he had killed his daughter, he begged police to shoot him. He claimed he didn’t know she was in the car.
So now Balas will spend 32 years in prison. No doubt, he’ll spend years wondering how he could have been so foolish, so careless, so indifferent to the safety of his child.
And now that we know how the system failed Calandra, we must ask the same terrible question of ourselves.