On Feb. 12, a 31-year-old Hollister woman named Llaneth Chavez strapped her 4-year-old daughter, Malaya, into her car seat and began the two-hour drive north to the gated community of Blackhawk, for what was to be a monumental day.
Malaya’s mother and father met when Chavez started working at a gas station chain owned by his family. For the past four years, he’d financially supported Malaya but kept the girl a secret, out of fear of what would happen if his parents found out. But that day, he’d finally agreed to meet her for the first time, and go out for ice cream cones.
Pool drownings are one of the most common causes of accidental deaths in the United States. But nearly four months after Chavez and Malaya’s death, police say the coroner has yet to rule whether their deaths were accidents, homicides, or had a cause impossible to determine.
When police arrived to the 7,000 square-foot home that day, they encountered a story that raised their suspicions and led to the investigation, which has been open ever since. Details of the deaths were publicly revealed in recent court records police filed. Investigators hope that using a subpoena to gain access to electronic records will provide clarity as to how Chavez and Malaya ended up dead in the pool.
The Bay Area News Group is not naming the East Ridge Court resident, Malaya’s father, who told investigators he was inside the home when the pair drowned and didn’t witness anything. He has not been arrested or charged in the incident.
It was Malaya’s father who called 911 to report the drownings a little before 3 p.m. that day. He later told investigators it took him about five attempts to reach a dispatcher because the lines were busy. When authorities arrived, he appeared to be performing CPR on the young girl. The girl and her mother were rushed to a hospital and pronounced dead after their arrival.
Malaya’s father then told police he met and dated Chavez four years earlier, when he was a manager at the gas station where she worked. He said he feared to reveal the relationship or his secret daughter to his own family, out of fear they wouldn’t approve due to “cultural differences,” according to police. But in 2021, his mother died, and in December of that year he agreed to allow Malaya into his life.
That day, he planned to drive the group to Blackhawk Plaza to get ice cream, then return to the East Ridge Court home, he reportedly told police. The mother and daughter arrived around 1:45 p.m., and he showed them into the backyard. He told police he then left to go inside, went upstairs, and took a shower.
When he got out of the shower, he said he called Chavez on her cellphone to let her know he was getting dressed, but became concerned when she didn’t answer. When he went downstairs, he saw both of them, motionless, floating in the pool. Chavez was face down, he said; Malaya was face up.
He said he ran to the pool, jumped in, and pulled them out one at a time, starting with Malaya, then called 911. A dispatcher instructed him on how to perform CPR on the girl.
Police noted that the man had no marks or indications of defensive wounds when he talked to investigators, and that they asked him to take them upstairs and show them the bathroom where he said he had been showering when the drownings occurred. He complied.
An autopsy confirmed both victims drowned and found “no obvious signs of trauma,” according to court records. The coroner’s determination on manner of death was still pending as of Thursday afternoon, authorities said.
When police contacted Chavez’s brother, it raised their suspicions further. He told investigators both Chavez and Malaya were afraid of water, didn’t know how to swim, and that he doubted they’d have gone near a pool. He also said that in addition to financial support, Malaya’s father had offered Chavez large sums of money if she agreed to cut off all contact with him, and that Chavez was well aware that Malaya’s father didn’t want his family to know he had a daughter.
Anyone with information about this incident should contact the sheriff’s Investigation Division at 925-313-2600. Tips can be emailed to email firstname.lastname@example.org. Anonymous callers can call 866-846-3592 to leave a voice message.