LIVE OAK, Fla. – No criminal charges will be filed in the accidental deaths of three children who suffocated after they were trapped inside a chest freezer in the yard of a Live Oak home, authorities said Friday.
After reviewing the circumstances of the Jan. 13 deaths of 6-year-old Dawlton Delbridge, 4-year-old Brooklyn Jackson and 19-month-old Kaleigh Meeks, prosecutors chose not to pursue a criminal case, according to the Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office.
“We understand that some people will not agree with this decision, however, it was based upon a review of all of the available evidence in this case” and existing state laws, the Sheriff’s Office wrote in a Facebook post on the agency’s official page.
Deputies called to the home on 173rd Place about 6 p.m. Jan. 13 found relatives trying to resuscitate the children. Deputies and paramedics rushed the children to Shands Live Oak Regional Medical Center, but they could not be revived.
A medical examiner ruled the children died as a result of accidental suffocation.
The 4-year-old’s mother, who was watching the children at the time, told investigators she had gone inside momentarily to use the bathroom. When she came back outside, she could not find them, so she woke up the other children’s grandmother.
The group searched the entire property along with a nearby vacant home. By the time the children were found, they had been trapped inside the freezer for at least 20 minutes and were no longer breathing, authorities told the Lake City Reporter.
It appears the children were playing outside when they climbed into the freezer, which had been recently purchased and not yet brought inside or plugged in. Investigators believe an after-market latch shut once the children got in, trapping them inside.
In Florida, it’s against the law to leave appliances outside a home because they’re viewed as a hazard to children. Leaving an appliance, like a freezer, outside can result in misdemeanor charges, but if a child is hurt or dies, it can escalate into a felony child negligence charge.