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Doctor says 'significant force' caused injuries that killed Hillsborough County baby

TAMPA — A doctor who attended to 4-month-old Dylan Dankert testified Tuesday that the baby was "almost dying" when his father brought him to a hospital in December 2003.

Dylan's fatal injuries, which included a ruptured intestine, suggested blunt force trauma, pediatric surgeon Luis Martinez said.

"The type of injury that I found in the intestine of this child required a very significant force to occur in that way," said Martinez, one of several witnesses who testified on the first day of the father's murder trial.

Donald Dankert, 27, is accused of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse.

In opening statements, Dankert's attorney, Theda James, characterized the baby's death as a tragic accident caused in part by a delay in care when the baby was sent from one hospital to another. But prosecutor Debra Bell told jurors that Dankert's account of how his son sustained injuries did not correspond with doctors' assessments.

By the father's account, he was home holding Dylan on the morning of Dec. 19, 2003, when a dog barked. He was startled and dropped the baby, jerking up his own leg as if to break the fall, he said. He caught Dylan by the ankle and prevented him from hitting the floor, he said. But afterward, something seemed off about the child's eyes, and Dankert took him to University Community Hospital.

Assessing the baby's condition to be critical, doctors performed CPR and other lifesaving techniques, Bell told jurors. But they decided he needed surgery and had to be transferred to St. Joseph's Hospital, where Martinez saw him.

Bell told the jury to expect testimony from several medical experts about the severity of the baby's injuries, which previously have been reported as a lacerated intestine, a bruised head and broken ribs.

In court, Martinez, who performed surgery on the baby, said, "This child cannot fall with enough force on anything to cause such an injury unless the fall is from several feet higher."

He said the injuries could have come from kicking or stomping.

Defense attorney James said the hospital took too long to transport Dylan to St. Joseph's. Medical examiners also do not agree on the time of Dylan's injuries, she told jurors.

Testimony continues when the trial resumes at 8:30 a.m. today.

Dankert also faces a 2008 Pinellas County charge of aggravated child abuse involving the toddler of a woman he met while out on bail. That trial is scheduled for October.

Nandini Jayakrishna can be reached at (813) 661-2441 or

Doctor says 'significant force' caused injuries that killed Hillsborough County baby 09/21/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 21, 2010 10:59pm]
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