Monday, December 11, 2017
Public safety

Pinellas deputies arrest Largo father of 1-year-old who died in bathtub

LARGO — The water had risen to the edge of the tub, over the rim and onto the floor before Alan Morris remembered to check on his 13-month-old.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri recounted Thursday how Morris went from the bedroom to the bathroom across the hallway of the home near Largo.

When he got there, baby Liam was floating on his back, water from the faucet pouring onto his face. He was pronounced dead that evening.

Deputies would serve a search warrant weeks later to find out how long it takes to fill the tub: depending on the nozzle setting, eight to 23 minutes.

"That's beyond careless," Gaultieri said during a news conference. "That's criminal."

Deputies on Thursday arrested Morris, 34, on an aggravated manslaughter charge for his role in the Sept. 28 incident. He is being held without bail at the Pinellas County Jail.

The child's mother, 34-year-old Madelynne Barenbrugge, doesn't face charges, as there was no indication she knew the child was in danger, Gaultieri said.

The evening started normally. Morris returned home about 7 p.m. from his construction job. The family ate dinner together.

The parents each took a shower in the home's one bathroom. Then Morris put Liam in the tub, turned on the water and plugged the drain, the sheriff said.

Morris went across into the bedroom, where Barenbrugge had gone after she got out of the shower. The two gave conflicting statements about what happened next, but the gist was that they were talking, Gualtieri said.

The infant had taken his first steps just the night before, the sheriff said, and didn't have the strength to stabilize himself in the tub. By the time Morris heard the water overflowing, it was too late.

The father was "extremely remorseful," Gualtieri said. But later the parents refused to meet for interviews with detectives.

The night of the incident, deputies also found marijuana in the house, along with methadone and Suboxone, medication used to treat opiate addiction. Neither parent had prescriptions. They would not consent to drug tests, the sheriff said.

Court records show several petitions for protection and domestic violence incidents between the couple. Gualtieri said one of those incidents was in December 2016, when Liam was living with them.

Liam's case is reminiscent of a father who left his toddler in a hot truck last year. Troy Whitaker, a Hillsborough firefighter, faced the same charge — aggravated manslaughter — in the death of his young son, Lawson.

The state Attorney's Office dropped the charge, saying the father didn't show "intentional disregard."

Gualtieri, agreeing the case was similar, said he made his decision independently of what he thinks prosecutors will do.

"I . . . feel extremely strongly about it that our obligation is to the kid, our obligation is to that dead baby and to make sure someone is a voice for that child," he said.

Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or kvarn@tampabay.com. Follow @kathrynvarn.

   
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