Tahlequah Daily Press

November 21, 2012

Man booked in death of toddler

By JOSH NEWTON
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Tahlequah police are investigating the death of an 18-month-old girl who was found unconscious in a car Monday evening.

Police said the baby’s death does not appear to be suspicious, but rather a tragic occurrence.

Officer Christopher Davis arrived at the park at around 9 p.m. Monday, where Tahlequah City Hospital EMS personnel were providing medical care to the girl. She was later transported to TCH and pronounced dead, according to police.

Tahlequah Police Detective Jeff Haney said the girl had an “extremely high core temperature,” but her exact cause of death is unknown.

The girl’s father, 19-year-old Cody Butler, was interviewed Monday night and booked on potential charges of child neglect or endangerment and second-degree manslaughter.

Butler reportedly had his daughter in Tahlequah for an extended holiday visit, so the two visited Norris Park along with Butler’s friend.

Later in the evening, temperatures dropped and the girl became sleepy, so Butler placed her in a car seat in the back seat of the vehicle and turned the heater on. Police said it appears the heater fan was not on high, nor was the heater’s temperature at its maximum.

Haney said Butler remained beside the car and visited with his friend. Detectives are reviewing surveillance footage from the park to see whether the recordings provide any other details – particularly, how long the girl was inside the car.

Haney said it’s possible the girl had been in the vehicle at least an hour when Butler noticed her cheeks were purple. Butler reportedly took the child from the car and began CPR until an ambulance arrived.

Haney prepared a search warrant request Tuesday afternoon so detectives can gauge the temperatures inside the car.

The medical examiner’s office found no signs of physical injury to the girl, according to Haney. A full autopsy will be conducted to determine the toddler’s cause of death.

The District Attorney’s Office will consider charges when the investigation is complete.

“This type of tragedy is one of the hardest calls we respond to as law enforcement officers,” said Tahlequah Chief of Police Clay Mahaney. “We feel for the family and strongly remind everyone to never leave a young child unattended for any amount of time.”