Man Arrested in Death of Girlfriend's 7-Year-Old Daughter

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SAN FERNANDO (CNS) - A Hawthorne man who was arrested in connection with the death of his girlfriend's 7-year-old daughter -- whom authorities said died after falling from a moving vehicle onto the northbound Golden State (5) Freeway -- was charged Wednesday with a misdemeanor count of child abuse.

Michael Aaron Branch, 39, pleaded not guilty in a San Fernando courtroom to one count of child abuse under circumstances or conditions other than great bodily injury or death.

The girl was fatally injured about 3:40 a.m. Saturday near Weldon Canyon Road, the California Highway Patrol reported.

Officers went to the scene after receiving a 911 call from a motorist reporting that a vehicle "had struck an unknown stationary object, which was blocking the roadway ...," according to a CHP statement.

"It was determined that the unknown object was a child which had been struck by several vehicles. After initial investigations it was determined the 7- year-old female child fell out of the moving 1999 Lincoln Navigator through ... an open window, and as a result sustained fatal injuries. At this time the circumstances behind how she fell out are under investigation."

Branch and the girl's mother, Veronda Gladney, 28, of Lancaster, were arrested on suspicion of child endangerment, according to the CHP.

The girl's name was withheld pending notification of relatives.

Gladney was driving the Lincoln, and Branch and the girl were passengers, according to the CHP.

It was not immediately clear if the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office had made a filing decision involving the girl's mother.

Branch was released late Wednesday afternoon on his own recognizance, according to jail records.

Anyone with information on the case was urged to call the CHP Newhall Area Office at 661-600-1600.

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