An 8-month-old baby found dead in a closet at a west Fort Worth home Monday night died of accidental strangulation after his airway was cut off by the safety belt of his child carrier seat, the Tarrant County medical examiner ruled Tuesday.
“At this time, we do not believe there is any foul play involved,” Fort Worth police Sgt. Wade Walls, supervisor of the crimes against children unit, said in an email.
Walls said the child had been placed asleep in the carrier inside a walk-in closet of the home in the 600 block of Woodpecker Lane when the incident occurred. The closet was not locked as a spokesman had previously indicated, he said.
“It appears the bottom belt strap was not properly connected and the child slid down the seat,” Walls said. “The infant’s neck was caught between the car carrier chest buckle that was fastened and the child appears to have suffocated.”
The baby, identified as John Norris of Weatherford, was pronounced dead at 10:17 p.m. at the home. The cause and manner of death are still pending.
State officials are investigating whether the caregiver was operating an illegal child care facility.
Walls said the caregiver was watching 10 to 11 other children at the time of the incident.
“I can confirm that the home is not a permitted daycare operation,” said Marissa Gonzalez, a Child Protective Services spokeswoman, in an email Tuesday. “... Child Care Licensing is investigating the issue of the unpermitted child care.”
According to Walls, the baby had last been seen alive about two hours before being discovered unresponsive.
He said criminal charges “can’t be ruled out at this time” and that the investigation is continuing.
Fort Worth police cautioned parents of small infants and toddlers to always follow manufacturer’s guidelines in strapping children in car seats and carriers and to never leave children unattended in such seats.
The baby’s mother had been at work, he said. The baby and his family have no previous CPS history, Gonzalez said.
In September 2015, a Fort Worth woman who had twice been told by the state to stop running an illegal child-care center was charged in connection with the death of a 9-month-old boy in her care.
Latoya Latrice Anderson was accused of placing Dacion Steptoe Jr. in imminent danger on July 23, 2015, by leaving the sick baby facedown on a couch in an apartment with 10 other children — but no adult supervision.
The baby was later found not breathing.
Anderson was charged with both abandoning/endangering a child, a state jail felony, and operating a child-care facility without a license, a Class B misdemeanor.
The Tarrant County medical examiner’s office, however, later ruled Dacion’s death as natural, caused by sudden infant death syndrome.
A Tarrant County grand jury no-billed Anderson on the endangering charge in February 2016.
Court records show the charge of operating a child-care facility without a license remains pending.