Mother arrested in Atwater toddler’s death

rparsons@mercedsunstar.comMarch 4, 2014 

Amanda Klaas, 19, was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of child cruelty after her 2-year-old son was found dead in a bedroom at her home.

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE MERCED COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT

— A 2-year-old boy was found dead Tuesday, pinned beneath a fallen dresser in a bedroom, the Atwater Police Department reported.

The child’s mother, 19-year-old Amanda Klaas, was arrested on suspicion of felony child cruelty, Lt. Samuel Joseph said.

Police said Klaas may have been under the influence of a narcotic and failed to check on the child for more than 18 hours after putting him in a bedroom behind a closed door at her home in the 1100 block of Vine Street. The child may have been climbing on the dresser, causing it to fall on top of him, investigators said.

Emergency responders administered first aid, but the child was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.

Joseph said Klaas put the child alone in the bedroom about 4 p.m. Monday and did not check on him again until some time after 10 a.m. Tuesday. Atwater police were called to the home about 10:48 a.m., he said.

It was not clear why it took Klaas nearly one hour to contact law enforcement. “When she did call, it appears she contacted the (Merced County) Sheriff’s Department first, and they’re the ones that contacted us,” Joseph said.

It was also unclear exactly how long the child had been dead when police found his body, but investigators said it appeared he had been dead for at least several hours by the time police arrived.

Neighbors described Klaas as a good mother who was grieving a tragic accident.

Clinton Boyd lives across the street from Klaas and said he’s known her for about three years. Boyd said he hopes people will “remember there’s two sides” to the incident and not rush to judgment.

“I think she’s a great parent,” Boyd said. “It’s horrifying. It’s tragic. But it really wasn’t her fault. She’s a mother who just lost her child; she’s not a bad person.”

Boyd said he did not think the Police Department timeline was accurate, specifically the length of time the child was left unattended, but did not want to elaborate.

“People need to understand this ain’t a neglect situation,” he said. “Everyone in this neighborhood, we all know each other, we all look out for each other. If I thought there was any abuse, any neglect going on there ... I’d have reported her myself.”

Efforts to reach Klaas’ family by telephone were unsuccessful Tuesday.

An autopsy will be scheduled this week to determine the exact cause and approximate time of death, investigators said.

Police said they found an unspecified amount of marijuana inside the home.

Boyd questioned the drug allegations, saying it was possible Klaas smoked “a little” marijuana, but he does not believe any hard drugs were ever at the home.

“In that house, there’s no (cocaine), no (methamphetamine) and they barely ever drink, barely,” Boyd said. “I’m not going to convict her because they found a little weed. It doesn’t have anything to do with what happened.”

No formal drug charges had been filed against Klaas on Tuesday, but police were still gathering evidence and said they had not ruled out the possibility.

Klaas was still in custody Tuesday evening in lieu of $50,000 bail.

Staff writer Rob Parsons can be reached at rparsons@mercedsunstar.com or (209) 385-2482.

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