Family pleads guilty to misdemeanors in death of 12 year old

HUDSON—Columbia County Judge Richard Koweek accepted guilty pleas from Steven Bennett, Heidi Tranberg-Bennett, Venuska Tranberg-Bennett, Svenia Tranberg-Bennett, Petrevena Tranberg-Bennett, Tevania Tranberg-Bennett and Ryan Torres, according to a press release from Columbia County District Attorney Paul Czajka issued Wednesday, December 16.

All of the defendants pleaded guilty December 15 to endangering the welfare of a child, a class A misdemeanor, in the connection with the death of 12-year-old Evanna Tranberg-Bennett. All the defendants are related to Evanna, including her parents, Steven and Heidi.

They were all initially charged with second degree manslaughter, a class C felony.

Chatham Rescue Squad emergency medical technicians responded to County Route 9 in Austerlitz, December 3, 2019, and found the child unresponsive. Physicians at Albany Medical Center pronounced the child dead December 6, 2019 at the medical center. After a months-long investigation, Columbia County Sheriff’s Office Senior Investigator Mark Dunspaugh charged the family members.

Steven Bennett (l) and Heidi Tranberg-Bennett in court in November. Photo by Lance Wheeler

All of the defendants admitted they were responsible for the care of the child at all relevant times; that they all became aware of her illness and progressive symptoms, including, ultimately, swelling of her feet, legs and abdomen; and that they did not contact emergency personnel or take the child to a doctor or hospital in a timely manner.

Attorney Michael Sussman represents all seven defendants. Judge Koweek will sentence the defendants in February 2021.

The endangering the welfare of a child charge carries with a sentence of probation to up to a year in jail.

In a comment on the case by phone Wednesday, DA Czajka said he offered the lesser charge to the defendants because “given the circumstances, including the interests of the remaining children who remain in the custody of the Columbia County Commissioner of Social Services and issues related to trial delays of two years, I thought it was best for the surviving children.”

Asked if the surviving children will now be returned to their parents, Mr. Czajka said that will be up to Judge Koweek, depending on the resolution of the companion case ongoing in family court.


Shaun P. Kim, 20, of Floutown, PA, was charged with fifth degree criminal possession of a controlled substance in the and possession of a forged instrument, both class D felonies, by State Police from the New Lebanon barracks, December 7.

At 3:10 p.m. that day, troopers conducted a traffic stop on a 2017 Nissan Altima for a violation of the vehicle and traffic law on Route 295 in Chatham. An investigation determined Mr. Kim allegedly possessed about 2.4 grams of cocaine and a fraudulent driver’s license.

He was arraigned in Chatham Town Court and released on his own recognizance to return at a later date.


Dillon J. Camp, 30, of Rochester was charged with seventh degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, a class A misdemeanor, and a Public Health Law Violation for having a controlled substance that was not in its original container, by Sheriff’s deputies December 4 at 10:27 p.m. The arrest occurred at a sobriety checkpoint in Greenport.

Mr. Camp was issued appearance tickets returnable in Greenport Court December 28 to answer his charges. The arrest was handled by Deputies Brian McSween and Matthew Leonard.


Deputies John Sullivan and Timothy Gladwin arrested Michael Ayala, 31, of New York City on several drug possession offenses following a traffic stop in Taghkanic, December 7 at 12:42 a.m. Mr. Ayala was found to allegedly be in possession of 30.6 grams of cocaine, and a quantity of concentrated cannabis oil. He was charged with seventh degree criminal possession of a controlled substance (concentrated cannabis), a class A misdemeanor; third degree criminal possession of a controlled substance (possession of a narcotic drug), a class B felony; third degree criminal possession of a controlled substance (possession of a narcotic drug with intent to sell), a class B felony, and speed in zone. Mr. Ayala was arraigned in Claverack Court before Justice Michael Brandon and was released on his own recognizance to return to Taghkanic Court December 17.

To contact Diane Valden email

Scammers pose as Central Hudson employees

POUGHKEEPSIE—Central Hudson Gas & Electric is warning customers to exercise extra caution after a Catskill man was robbed by two men posing as employees of the utility company Thursday, December 10.

The men approached the victim’s door and identified themselves as Central Hudson employees who were replacing a transformer in the area, requesting to inspect the victim’s circuit breaker panel. It was later determined that the subjects stole cash after gaining entry to the home.

“Central Hudson follows strict protocols when communicating and interacting with our customers… . Employees and authorized contractors carry photo identification, and will always display it upon request. If there is ever any doubt about the authenticity of a contact, whether in person, on line or by phone, customers should call Central Hudson at 845-452-2700 to inquire about any suspicious person claiming to be an employee,” Central Hudson President and CEO Charles A. Freni said in a press release.

He added that customers may also note a vehicle’s license plate information, caller ID, or email addresses and report the incident to their local police department.

Residents should also remember:

·All Central Hudson employees and contractors will provide photo identification upon request

·Central Hudson employees rarely have to enter a customer’s home. Exceptions include reports of a gas leak or smell

·Customers should never open their door or grant access if they have doubts or are unable to verify employment

·Customers who feel they are in physical danger should call 911 immediately.

For more information on how to protect from scammers, visit

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