Sunday, December 17, 2017
Public safety

Citrus County boy smothered after Florida, California both fail to protect him

Two states, on opposite sides of the country, had a chance to save 16-month-old Daymeon Chrystopher Wygant. Both Florida and California child welfare administrators expected the other state's agency to protect the boy, whose parents had a well-documented history of sexual battery, mental illness, weapons possession, homelessness and neglect.

Neither did.

Last week, police say, Daymeon's father smothered the toddler with his hands, then wrapped him, mummy-like, to stop his fussing. Cody Eugene Wygant then left the boy to die while he resumed an online Xbox game — and watched three episodes of the science fiction TV show Fringe.

Daymeon and his infant sister were under the supervision of the California Health and Human Services Agency in January when social workers in Redding, in Shasta County, placed the boy and his parents on an airplane bound for Central Florida, nearly 3,000 miles away. They asked their counterparts in Florida to look in on the boy's family. The investigation that followed was superficial, a top Department of Children and Families administrator acknowledged Friday.

"It is deeply troubling that the department failed to truly understand the import of the extensive needs of the family and the high risk of these children," said DCF Deputy Secretary Pete Digre. "I feel if both California and Florida had used the established child protective systems and process, a better outcome would have been achieved. This would have required more through and transparent communication from Shasta County and a comprehensive assessment in Florida."

California child welfare administrators released a short statement Friday to the Miami Herald: "Any time a child is hurt or harmed in any way, it is a tragedy and that is what we work to keep from happening. Unfortunately, we cannot comment on any specific case,'' said Tim Mapes, community education specialist with the Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency.

About three months after Daymeon arrived in Homosassa, north of Tampa Bay, the boy died. Family members initially told police they discovered Daymeon in his playpen no longer breathing. Hours later, Wygant told the Citrus County Sheriff's Office he suffocated the boy because he was "very frustrated" that Daymeon was crying uncontrollably — preventing the father from focusing on his Xbox.

Following the smothering, a police report says, Wygant wrapped him in layers of bedding, preventing him from "receiving fresh air." In his death, police said, Daymeon may have saved his 3-month-old sister, who was later found to have been so severely neglected that the rear of her skull had become flattened, the result of seldom being moved. The newborn also had a severe rash on her neck, armpit, back and leg, causing tissue loss. She is now in state care.

The Wygant home, the police report said, "was heavily infested with bugs, insects and contained a very foul odor, which could be smelled from the street."

Daymeon joins more than 477 Florida children — whose stories were recently detailed in the Herald — who died of abuse or neglect since 2008 after members of their family had come in contact with DCF.

"It is inconceivable that a father could kill his infant son — it just baffles the mind," Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy said in a statement April 17. "We did exactly what we needed to do to bring justice to him swiftly."

Wygant, 24, faces charges of murder and neglect causing great bodily harm, and he remains in jail with no bond. He tested positive for marijuana following his son's death.

The 22-year-old mother of the children, Jessika Lynn DuFour, and her mother, 55-year-old Geneva May DuFour, also have been charged with child neglect. The day Daymeon died, Jessika DuFour, who is Wygant's girlfriend, tested positive for illegally obtained prescription drugs.

Neither authorities in Florida nor California would discuss the family in detail Friday. But several letters sent between the two states, obtained by the Herald, show that California social workers contacted their counterparts in Florida on Dec. 30 to inquire whether Geneva DuFour and her adult son had a history of arrests or child abuse. Workers were considering sending the Wygant family to live with DuFour.

After DCF told them DuFour and her son had a clean record, the Wygant family was flown to Florida, with California paying the bill. Then, on Jan. 6, social worker Tammy Maxey told DCF the family had arrived three days earlier. Maxey requested that investigators in Florida make "a follow up visit ... to assess the safety and well-being of the children, and to link the family with community resources."

"The mother and father have a history of marijuana use. The mother has a history of mental health concerns. The father is said to have anger management issues," Maxey wrote, adding the family also had been homeless.

"Our agency is concerned that the parents' homelessness may have caused the child, Daymeon Wygant, to have some developmental delays," Maxey wrote.

Here is what Maxey did not tell Florida authorities, according to a DCF administrator: Wygant's and DuFour's history in California included "a substantiated finding of child neglect, several other child maltreatment allegations, a history of criminal activity, including crimes involving weapons and sexual battery, mental illness, homelessness and basic neglect of the children's health and cleanliness."

The parents, DCF's Digre said in a letter Friday, had been assessed to be at "very high risk" of harming their children while they remained in Redding.

"Without a full understanding of the history of this family, we were unable to take the necessary steps to protect these children," Digre wrote. "In the future, we will expect to receive more transparent communication from California counties if they intend to send very high-risk families to our state."

"Frankly," Digre added, "it is impossible to understand why Shasta County did not move to shelter these children."

From the records DCF provided to the Herald, it is difficult to determine what measures the agency undertook to determine whether Wygant's children were safe.

A DCF spokeswoman said Friday that all notations arising from the agency's assessment of the family were contained within the margins of Maxey's Jan. 6 letter. The notes comprise about four handwritten scribbles, including: "no pediatrician," "no daycare," "Cody is going to work [and] not using," "Daymeon teething," and "don't trust random people."

Comments

Two die in head-on crash on Gunn Highway in Odessa

ODESSA — Hillsborough County deputies are investigating a head-on crash on Gunn Highway that killed two and sent a child to the hospital Saturday afternoon.About 12: 45 p.m., Terry Lee Bronschidle, 70, of Tampa was driving his Chevy Traverse south on...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Firefighters injured after early-morning blaze at Tampa strip mall

Firefighters injured after early-morning blaze at Tampa strip mall

TAMPA — Three firefighters were injured early Saturday morning while battling a fire at a strip mall on W Waters Avenue, according to Tampa Fire Rescue.Firefighters said the blaze started around 2:45 p.m. in the attic of L.A. Nail Supply, located at ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Pinellas sheriff’s investigator fired, could face criminal charges for involvement in child custody battle

Pinellas sheriff’s investigator fired, could face criminal charges for involvement in child custody battle

LARGO — A Pinellas sheriff’s child protective investigator has been fired and could face criminal charges after an investigation found she made a child custody recommendation to a judge as a favor to a friend.Jayne Johnson, who has worked for the She...
Published: 12/15/17
Deputies: Plant City men fled in stolen car, shot dog, hid in swamp

Deputies: Plant City men fled in stolen car, shot dog, hid in swamp

DOVER — Two Plant City men who ran from deputies and shot a dog were captured after a brief pursuit Thursday, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.They ditched a stolen car, ran away on foot, crossed through several yards and then tr...
Published: 12/15/17

Tampa bicyclist, 52, dies after being rear-ended by vehicle; no charges

TAMPA — A 52-year-old man riding a bicycle was killed early Friday when he was struck from behind by a car in Seminole Heights, according to Tampa police.The incident took place at about 12:15 a.m. Wayne Kersh, 52, was riding his bicycle in the eastb...
Published: 12/15/17
After third fire at former Ybor City bathhouse, arrest is made

After third fire at former Ybor City bathhouse, arrest is made

TAMPA — A 46-year-old man was arrested Friday and accused of setting fire to a vacant Ybor City bathhouse hit by arson at least two other times earlier this year.Two Tampa police officers spotted smoke from the vacant building at 1512 E Eighth Ave. a...
Published: 12/15/17

FHP: Overturned pick-up slowed traffic on northbound Howard Frankland

ST. PETERSBURG — A pick-up truck towing a car onto the northbound Howard Frankland Bridge overturned and crashed on the shoulder, causing back-ups for motorists trying to get to Tampa, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The incident was reported...
Published: 12/15/17
New video shows cows beaten and burned at Florida dairy farm

New video shows cows beaten and burned at Florida dairy farm

The Miami Beach-based Animal Recovery Mission has released a video from its undercover abuse investigation at a Central Florida dairy farmThe graphic video, with disturbing images of cows cruelly being beaten, speared, stabbed and burned, was shot by...
Published: 12/15/17

Missing Child Alert canceled for Port St. Lucie girl, 17

A Florida Missing Child Alert has been canceled for a 17-year-old Port St. Lucie girl who was last seen on Thursday.The case involving Heaven Flores has been resolved, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Published: 12/15/17

Hudson pedestrian killed while crossing U.S. 19

HUDSON — A Hudson man was killed Thursday night while crossing U.S. 19.According to the Florida Highway Patrol, 59-year-old Gerald Berube was crossing the northbound lanes of U.S. 19 north of Stahl Drive around 6:40 p.m. when he walked into the path ...
Published: 12/15/17