Investigations continue into toddlers' deaths

By BARRY FOSTER

News-Sun

October 12, 2003

 

SEBRING -- Highlands County Sheriff's deputies continue to probe the circumstances surrounding the deaths last week of a pair of toddlers in separate incidents in the Lorida area.

 

Dr. Stephen Nelson did the autopsies for the Polk County Medical Examiner's Office in both cases.

 

After an autopsy was conducted Friday, the 2-year-old Lorida boy, identified as Chance Thunder Kilakai reportedly died of hyperthermia -- that is, an elevated body temperature -- in a Thursday incident.

 

According to the Weather Channel's Internet Web site, Thursday's high temperature in Sebring was 86 degrees. It was not immediately known how long the toddler might have been in the dark colored car, or what the temperature might have been inside the vehicle.

 

Highlands County Sheriff's investigators will say only that that deputies were called to the Raccoon Lane residence of Kenneth Kaplan shortly after 5 p.m. Thursday.

 

Kaplan told officers that Kilakai apparently left the house and climbed into a black 1999 Pontiac Sunfire. A sheriff's office report indicated that occurred "sometime after 12 p.m. on Thursday."

 

The youngster was discovered in the car, dead, shortly before 5 p.m.

 

In the death of another 2-year-old, Nelson ruled Caleb Pruneau died as the result of an accidental drowning.

 

The little boy's body was discovered by Highlands County sheriff's deputies late Tuesday afternoon in a trash and garbage-laden pond on a lot at Hicks Road and Eighth Avenue in Lorida.

 

His mother, Rachelle Lynn Pruneau, told deputies she had been doing dishes at the residence when her son wandered off.

 

Pruneau, along with property owner Roy Lee Gross and a friend identified as Karen Gail Finley, reportedly searched for the youth for nearly two hours before calling law enforcement officials.

 

Deputies first searched the barn, shed and abandoned travel trailer on the Hicks Road lot, then learned of the pond on the property.

 

According to a Highlands County sheriff's report, Gross told deputies he had already waded through the pond, however, there did not appear to be any disturbance on the green algae growth on the pond that would have been evident if somebody had waded through it.

 

Deputies later used a long stick to begin skimming some of the green growth from the surface of the water. It was then they found the youngster, face down, about four feet from the shore.

 

Highlands County Sheriff's Public Information Officer Sgt. Jamie Casey indicated both cases still were open and that other information was being withheld so as not to jeopardize the integrity of the cases.