Fridley Father Charged with Manslaughter in Daughter's Bathtub Drowning
Nine months after a Fridley toddler drowned in her family's bathtub, prosecutors have brought formal, criminal charges against the little girl's father.
On October 31, 2011, 28 year-old Joe Martin put his 11-month-old toddler Maddie and her four-year-old sister Allie into the tub inside their apartment. That's when investigators say Martin left the bathroom and fell asleep on a living room couch. They say he was awakened only by the sound of Allie screaming that her baby sister had slipped, fallen, and wasn't moving. According to Sherry Schumacher, Maddie's maternal grandmother, "She had been submerged. We don't know how long."
Maddie died 11 days later, when she was taken off life support. "It was determined she was brain dead," said Sherry.
"Maddie was my angel," said Heather Martin, Maddie's mother. Heather was at work at the time of the incident.
It was a tragic accident. But was it simply a case of parental neglect, or something far more serious? Maddie's mother and aunt, and both her maternal grandparents, claim Joe Martin had a history of abuse.
"I would try to escape so many times and to get away from him," Heather said.
According to Wade Kish, Anoka County Assistant Attorney, "There's clearly no evidence to suggest (the drowning) was intentional. We just want to make sure the investigation is done thoroughly and correctly." The county has now decided to charge Joe Martin with second degree manslaughter (as well as child neglect), but only after prosecutors determined there was no way he could have adequately and responsibly watched his children from where he sat on his couch--even if he were wide awake.
"That's taking an unreasonable risk," Kish explained. "He left two children in a bathtub with nine inches of water, and sat 24 feet away from the edge of the bathtub. The critical thing for us was that from that distance of 24 feet he had a field of view into the bathroom of only about 12 inches. The tub itself was 49 inches wide so Mr. Martin could only see 12 inches of it."
5 Eyewitness News called Joe Martin to hear what he had to say, leaving voice mails for him on both Wednesday and Thursday. He has not returned the calls.
Martin has not been arrested and won't be because prosecutors say he is not a danger to the general public. He makes his first court appearance next Wednesday. If he's convicted of the charges he could face up to five years in prison.
Maddie's family hope the new developments will help bring them some kind of closure. But according to Maddie's aunt, Krista Schumacher, they are still working through "the sadness and the anger and the resentment."
"It'll be with us the rest of our lives," said Maddie's grandfather Tim Schumacher. "But justice will help us move on."
Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org