GEORGETOWN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — A college professor in western Michigan whose severely autistic 16-year-old son drowned in an icy backyard pool in March has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and child abuse.
Authorities said Samuel Koets' arms were bound when he was found face down in the above-ground pool behind the family's home in Georgetown Township, 170 miles (270 kilometers) west of Detroit. The teen's father, Timothy Koets, had left him outside when he went to work at Grand Rapids Community College, and his mother, Michelle Koets, was asleep inside after working a third shift as a registered nurse.
Timothy Koets, 50, was arraigned last week, according to MLive.com. The judge entered a not-guilty plea on his behalf. If convicted of manslaughter, he could face a 15-year prison sentence. The second-degree child abuse charge carries a possible 10-year term.
No attorney who can speak on Koets' behalf was listed in court records Wednesday morning.
Authorities said the parents restrained the boy's arms to prevent him from harming himself or others, and that his basement bedroom was bare and in deplorable condition, including a bed that was a bare mattress stained with feces. Child Protective Services said his room was sparsely decorated because he was prone to breaking things. An abuse and neglect petition filed by the agency in Ottawa County Family Court described Samuel as non-verbal and with a history of aggression toward himself and others.
Samuel Koets' 13-year-old sister was placed in foster care the day after his death. A hearing in her case is scheduled next week in Ottawa County Family Court.
Family members say the charges against Koets don't reflect how he and his wife cared for their son.
"They tried to make his world good," said Joel Koets, Timothy Koet's cousin. "The way they dealt with it was amazing to me. Just very patient, very loving. I couldn't do what they did for a week. It takes a special kind of person to take something like that on. From my perspective, Tim and Michelle are both saints."
"It's easy when you don't have an autistic child to say, 'I'd do this,' 'I'd do that,'" Joel Koets added. "Tim and Michelle never wanted to institutionalize Sammy. They put everything they had into their family. I wish people would empathize with the family for what they're going through."
Information from: The Grand Rapids Press:MLive.com, http://www.mlive.com