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Police: Boy, 2, was dead in van for hours

Tribune News Service • Jul 21, 2015 at 1:07 PM

Woelkers said a half-dozen detectives are working the case involving the death of James Nelson after authorities questioned and released the boy’s mother, her female roommate, grandparents and others.

No one is in custody or been charged in the toddler’s death, but Woelkers said everyone is being cooperative.

The boy’s exact time of death has not been determined, Woelkers said after an autopsy by the Macomb County Medical Examiner’s Office. But he said James’ body temperature at the hospital was 108 degrees.

Woelkers said police are trying to determine who had care of James on Tuesday while his mother was at work from early morning. He said the mother, who put the boy in the unlocked 2007 blue Dodge Caravan with the windows rolled up, was the last to see him alive. The boy was found dead at about 6 p.m., Woelkers said.

The minivan was in the sun in the driveway. James was in the right rear passenger area in a child seat. Woelkers said the unnamed roommate and friends pulled him out after the roommate saw him and went elsewhere to have 911 called.

Woelkers said the mother, Audrionna Rhoades, 21, doesn’t have an exact daily routine for her only child — sometimes the boy is taken to his grandparents, other times he is home with the roommate — while she is at her job in Oakland County. The boy’s father is out of state and not involved, Woelkers said.

The boy’s grandfather said he found the toddler dead inside the parked van after his daughter’s roommate came to his home for help.

“She’s pounding on the door. I go down there and he’s dead,” Johnny Rhoades, 53, said, breaking down into sobs. “He’s in the van, strapped in his frickin’ car seat, sopping wet, blue. My girlfriend tried CPR, but he was dead. The poor baby.”

Rhoades said his daughter’s roommate was supposed to be watching his grandson while his daughter was at work.

James was taken to Beaumont Hospital in Troy, where he was pronounced dead, according to a release issued by the Shelby Township Police Department.

The temperature at about the time the boy was found in the car Tuesday was 72 degrees in Pontiac, with the high for the day at 73 degrees about an hour earlier, said Dan Thompson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in White Lake Township.

Woelkers said a vehicle’s temperature can get to 130 degrees in just 15 minutes.

He said 36 children have died this year being left in vehicles. Since 1998, he said, a child dies in a locked vehicle every nine days. Nationally, more than 650 have died in such a fashion, he said.

Woelkers said he was unaware of any custody, neglect or abuse investigations involving the boy. He said police had been to the home before, but he did not know when or if the matter involved the same family or someone who may have lived there before.

Johnny Rhoades said his daughter was questioned by police until early Wednesday, then released. He said she is staying with her mother in Auburn Hills.

— By Christina Hall and Tammy Stables Battaglia, Detroit Free Press (MCT)

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