Mother charged with manslaughter in drowning

bburger@bradenton.comNovember 13, 2009 

MANATEE — A young mother was arrested Thursday on charges of aggravated manslaughter after her 11-month-old son drowned in a bathtub, according to Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

Jessica M. Barnes, 19, was giving her son, Ryan Walter Gerken Jr., a bath on May 31 when she left him unattended for approximately five to 10 minutes. She returned to the bathroom when she didn’t hear the child splashing in the water, according to a released statement.

She entered the room and found her son lying face down submerged in the tub in about a foot of water. Barnes attempted to administer CPR and called 911.

The child died June 3 at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.

Barnes was picked up at work at Burlington Coat Factory by deputies, said her mother, Page Barnes.

“It’s accidental. She doesn’t sleep. She still sits in the bathroom and cries,” Barnes said. “They shouldn’t be charging her with anything. It was just a tragic accident. She was a wonderful mom.”

Barnes flipped through a photo album of baby pictures of Ryan showing him unwrapping gifts for Christmas, clad in costumes for Halloween and climbing on playground equipment. A smiling little boy with warm brown eyes peered out of the pictures. “He was full of life,” she said.

Todd Sellitto of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Crimes Against Children unit wrote in his report Barnes was negligent and failed to provide adequate supervision resulting in the death of the child, according to a released statement.

The case was reviewed by Bruce Lee, a prosecutor at the State Attorney’s Office, who issued a warrant Thursday. Lee did not return a phone call.

Barnes will go before a judge today to have a bond set for the charge which is a first-degree felony.

Ryan Walter Gerken, Sr., 22, of Sarasota, the child’s father, said he believes his ex deserves to be charged. The couple split up in March.

“He was a happy boy, a really happy boy. He had a good life in front of him and she destroyed it for him. ... I still think about him. I look forward to my next child. I have a little girl on the way, but I’ll always think of him.”

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