Cullman County authorities have charged a man with aggravated child abuse in the death investigation surrounding his girlfriend's one-year-old son.
Hoss Wayne Benham reportedly drowned in the bathtub at his home in Monk's Trailer Park on U.S. Highway 31 on Tuesday, March 11, according to Sheriff Mike Rainey. The child was taken to Cullman Regional Medical Center and was pronounced dead on Tuesday night, which was his first birthday.
Hospital employees noticed the child had "several external injuries that were suspicious in nature" and contacted the sheriff's office around 11 p.m.
The sheriff's office dispatched a deputy to the hospital to investigate, but the child had already been pronounced dead by the time he arrived.
The deputy called for a team of investigators to respond to both the hospital and the child's home in the 17700 block of Highway 31.
Investigators interviewed the child's mother, 23-year-old Crystal Ballenger, and her 37-year-old boyfriend, Jeffery Brown. Based on those interviews and physical evidence, the sheriff's office later charged Brown with aggravated child abuse. He is in the Cullman County Jail on a $30,000 cash bond.
The sheriff said Benham's mom is not facing any charges at this time.
Cullman County's District Attorney Wilson Blaylock authorized an autopsy to be conducted on Benham on Thursday, March 13. The child's official cause of death has not yet been released.
Sheriff Rainey says the case is still active and ongoing, and they anticipate making further progress in the case during the next few days.
"Child abuse cases are difficult to work and especially those of which result in the death of a child," Sheriff Rainey stated. "As Sheriff, I am saddened by the death of this little boy and I want the community to know that we are praying for this child and those who loved him."
Neighbors who knew the couple and the little boy are still in shock. They said they've seen two sheriff's investigators at the child's home on Friday.
"You want to put it in the back of your mind [that] this is not happening. It's really not happening and then it's reality, it has," neighbor Madonna Hildebrant said.
Hildebrant said she had never heard anything out of the ordinary at the home Benham lived, but said Brown's actions the day after the little boy's death was alarming.
"Like, he went to workthe day after and you know, acted like nothing ever happened and nobody couldfigure out, why would you go to work? You know, that doesn't make sense. Whywouldn't you comfort the woman you're supposed to love and care for the baby?" Hildebrant questioned.
"It's horrible, it's horrible. It's hard to know that somebody you know, something like that could happen," Tonya Beasinger, another neighbor, said.
The Cullman County Sheriff's Office, District Attorney's Office and DHR are teaming up to investigated the case.
The sheriff expects to release more information in the coming days.
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