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Lutz woman charged with aggravated manslaughter after child drowns in pool

Jazmine Neal, 3, is pictured on a GoFundMe page set up after her death. She drowned in a backyard pool in Lutz on March 11, and deputies have accused her mother, 30-year-old Caitlin Powell, right, of aggravated manslaughter, alleging she failed to take precautions to keep the child safe. [GoFundMe, Hillsborough County Jail]
Published May 10, 2018

LUTZ — As Caitlin Powell slept one morning in March, her 3-year-old daughter slipped through an unsecured sliding glass door, fell into a murky swimming pool and drowned, authorities say.

On Tuesday, deputies arrested Powell and charged her with the aggravated manslaughter of a child. Investigators say the 30-year-old bartender failed to properly secure the pool and left two children unattended for more than four hours after mixing morphine and alcohol during her shift the night before, according to a Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office arrest report.

"Due to the course of conduct by the defendant, she should have reasonably known her actions were likely to cause death or great bodily injury," the report says.

The report chronicles the hours before the child fell into the pool.

Powell arrived at work at J.T.'s Road House in Tampa about 9:45 p.m. on March 10 and took one 15 milligram pill of morphine, prescribed by her doctor, at the start of her shift, the report says. About midnight, the report says, she took another half pill.

Also during her shift, the report says, Powell drank four to five shots of Bailey's Irish Cream and butterscotch liqueur.

About 2:40 a.m. on March 11, Powell left work and drove to a friend's house to pick up her two children, both 3 years old.

Powell arrived at her home at 17506 Willow Pond Drive, put the children to bed and went to sleep between 4 and 5 a.m., the report says. She woke up twice that morning to use the bathroom and change the children's diapers.

Then, about 12:25 p.m., one child woke up Powell and told her the other child was in the pool, the report says. The girl was pronounced dead at Florida Hospital Tampa about an hour later. The medical examiner was unable to determine the time of death, the report says.

Investigators noted the pool water was thick with algae, with visibility into the water "barely past the first step," the report says. According to the report, Powell knew the sliding glass doors that lead to the back yard did not properly lock and that a pin that secures the two doors together had been missing for at least a week.

A fence had been erected in front of the pool and a gap in the fence near one of the home's exterior walls had been blocked by a small metal cage and a plastic pet cage, both of which were lightweight, according to the report.

The other child in the home told investigators that the child pushed through the metal cage and carrier, walked around the pool and fell into the water, the report says.

"By the defendant's own statement, the children were unsupervised for four and a half hours," the report says.

Records show Powell was arrested at the Orient Road Jail and was released five minutes later after posting $15,000 bail.

Powell's attorney, Jared McCabe, declined to comment Wednesday or make his client available for an interview because he was still gathering facts on the case.

The court record does not include the child's name. The Sheriff's Office did not issue a news release when she died.

However, a friend of Powell's, Alex Ramos, confirmed to the Tampa Bay Times that the victim was Powell's daughter, Jazmine Neal. The public portion of Powell's Facebook page is filled with images of the fair-haired, blue-eyed girl and anguished statements of grief.

"My heart is torn in 1000 places," Powell posted on March 29. "Praying for the day we all are back together." A few days later, she posted a photo of flowers and a plastic angel resting on the girl's grave.

"Jazmine loved to play with her baby dolls, with her brother and sisters, animals and going to the zoo," the girl's obituary said.

Ramos said Powell wants people to know she loved her daughter.

"She's done everything she ever could for her daughter," said Ramos, 25. "She's fought to keep her daughter safe, protected and fed. What happened was an accident and could happen to any parent."

And it happens a lot in Florida, data show.

According to figures released by the USA Swimming Foundation earlier this year, Florida again led the nation as the state with the most child drownings in 2017. Fifty-one children died last year in pools or spas, a 20 percent increase over 2016.

Senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

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