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Mystery surrounds the deaths of young Brandon siblings

TAMPA — The babies were hot when doctors got to them.

Kaden Warren, 5 months, and his sister Dionna Ervin, 17 months, had core temperatures so high that it stunned the medical staff who rushed to their aid.

The children's father, Michael Jon Ervin, 26, had driven them to Brandon Regional Hospital at 2:50 p.m. Thursday, pulling into the entrance to the hospital's women's center and asking for help.

Doctors' efforts to revive the tots failed. The babies, the daughter and son of 24-year-old Enidlin Warren, were pronounced dead shortly afterward.

Ervin told deputies he was caring for the children when he noticed something was wrong. Warren was away working, deputies said.

But as detectives pushed further in their investigation to find out how these two children came to die at the same time, in apparently the same unexplained manner, Ervin and other family members soon became "less cooperative," Hillsborough sheriff's Maj. Harold Winsett said.

Sheriff's detectives searched the Ervin family home, 3807 Ridgeview Place in Valrico, into Thursday night.

They confiscated a family car and planned Friday to search it for evidence as well.

But no one is calling this anything but a death investigation. No one has been charged. Though rumors have swirled among neighbors and media that the two babies may have been left inside a hot car, the Sheriff's Office has not released any firm details supporting that claim.

The high in Brandon on Thursday was 93 degrees, according to Weather.com.

"I'm not going to speculate as to what a theory might be," Winsett said when asked about the hot-car claims. "If a crime has been committed, then we'll determine that at some point and act appropriately."

When the Hillsborough Medical Examiner's Office completed autopsies of the two bodies Friday, it withheld a cause-of-death finding, pending the outcome of the sheriff's investigation.

Asked if the children had been injured, Winsett said there were no "obvious signs of physical trauma.''

Relatives of the babies could not be reached by the Times Friday to talk about the case. But Rika Watson, Ervin's aunt, told Bay News 9 that Winsett's statements that the family wasn't cooperating were "lies."

"Every time they asked questions," she said, "we all cooperated with them."

During part of the day, no one was at the family's blue stucco home, positioned in a quiet cul-de-sac of the Brandon East subdivision, a middle-class neighborhood of shaded ranch houses and winding streets.

State records show that both parents have been arrested before, but neither has been convicted.

A spokeswoman with the Florida Department of Children and Families said the family of the deceased children has been the subject of abuse investigations. Jan Gregory, the regional deputy director of DCF, said she couldn't discuss those cases until the inquiry into the deaths is completed.

The Sheriff's Office wouldn't comment on that either.

In 2003, Ervin was picked up on a marijuana possession charge. In 2004, he was arrested on a criminal mischief charge. And in 2006 he was charged with failure to appear in court. In each case, the charges were dropped or abandoned, court records show.

Warren was charged in 2007 with auto theft, dealing in stolen property and giving false information to a pawn broker. The charges were dropped and, records show, she entered a pre-trial diversion program.

Mary Alice Graves, 38, of Brandon, said she was saddened to learn on Facebook that something had happened to Warren's children. Warren's family and Graves' were neighbors at the Westbury at Lake Brandon subdivision until about 2004, when Warren's mother died of cancer and the family moved to Omaha, Neb.

Graves said she was excited to reconnect with Warren, whom she called "Eni," about two months ago, when they discovered they lived near each other again.

"She sounded like a new mom," Graves said. "She seemed like she was getting a lot out of it."

Warren sent Graves pictures of her two youngsters. They exchanged phone numbers and talked about getting together for a barbecue soon.

The Rev. Nate Drayton, pastor of Unity Christian Church in St. Petersburg, said Friday that his church was supporting the family spiritually. Ervin's aunt is a member of his church.

"We've lost two precious (children) and the family is, of course, grieving," he said, adding that he had not been authorized by the family to say any more.

Back in Valrico, neighbors described what they knew of the Ervin family. Homeowner Valeria Ervin, mother of Michael Ervin, is known as a nice, hard-working woman, they said.

Thomas H. Powers, who lives near the Ervin family in the Brandon East subdivision, described concerns about traffic at the home, however.

Powers said that up until two years ago there was a lot of activity at the house — cars often came by the cul-de-sac in front of Ervin's home, and then Ervin would walk outside to them.

"This used to be like Grand Central Station," Powers said, and neighbors called the Sheriff's Office about their concerns. He said the activity died down about two years ago after neighbors approached Ervin's mother.

Asked about the account, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office said records dating to 2007 show no calls to the home.

Before ending statements to the media Friday evening about the case, Winsett, the sheriff's major, asked for anyone who knows about the children's deaths to notify his office. "We're going to take however long it takes to get to the bottom of it," Winsett said. "And I believe we are going to get to the bottom of it."

Times news researcher Will Gorham and staff writers Robbyn Mitchell and Jessica Vander Velde contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

Mystery surrounds the deaths of young Brandon siblings 08/14/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 18, 2009 5:38pm]

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