SOUTH SALT LAKE — Methamphetamine was found inside the body of a 4-month-old girl at the time of her death and now her mother faces criminal charges, even though an autopsy could not determine how the baby died.
Tara Lynn Bowers, 24, was charged Thursday in 3rd District Court with child abuse homicide, a second-degree felony, and two counts of endangerment of a child, a third-degree felony.
In addition, Joshua Leon Ekker, 43, of Salt Lake City, whom Bowers was living with at the time, was charged with three counts of endangerment of a child, a third-degree felony.
On May 13, police were called to a South Salt Lake apartment, 102 W. Angelo Lane, on a report of an unresponsive 4-month-old girl who was not breathing and was "cold to the touch and stiff," according to charging documents. The infant, only identified in court documents as T.E., was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Bowers told police she was sleeping with her baby and two other siblings in the same bed when she woke up and found T.E. was unresponsive, the charges state.
However, police also noted that her "statements were inconsistent and she had a hard time answering questions.
"During questioning, Bowers had a confused look on her face and could not provide officers with a timeline or description of events from the prior evening to the time of the arrival of the police," according to the charges. "(She) was evasive with her answers and was continually falling asleep. There were times that she appeared confused and couldn't remember what happened."
Ekker told police that he had actually slept on a futon with two of the children that night, including T.E., the charges state. He said he gave the baby to Bowers the next morning along with a bottle as he got ready for work.
"Ekker stated that typically Bowers is hard to wake up, as she's a recovering addict, takes anti-depressants and receives Suboxone injections. Ekker said that when he left for work, Bowers was awake and the baby was fine," the charges state.
He also told investigators that in the weeks leading up to the death, "he had found Bowers passed out with (the infant) underneath her, struggling to breathe. He had fears that T.E. would be harmed because Bowers was repeatedly passing out. Ekker stated he had warned Bowers not to sleep with (the infant) in the bed with her," according to charing documents.
"Joshua admitted there were drugs in the house. He said the night prior to T.E.'s death, Bowers asked him to do meth with her early in the morning, but he declined."
When police searched Bower's bathroom they found meth and drug paraphernalia, the charges state.
Detectives determined that Bowers "had no memory or explanation of what happened" from the time Ekker left for work to when Bowers woke up about five hours later and found her daughter unresponsive, according to the charges.
Joshua admitted there were drugs in the house. He said the night prior to T.E.'s death, Bowers asked him to do meth with her early in the morning, but he declined.
A supervisor with the Division of Child and Family Services told police that Bowers' other two children, ages 1 and 2 at the time, had been in foster care and returned to Bowers in September 2019. One child was born exposed to heroin and the other to Suboxone, the charges state. The division again took custody of the two children in May.
"Subsequent hair follicle tests were conducted on (the two) and both of their tests showed positive for methamphetamine," the charges say.
An autopsy could not determine a cause of death for T.E., according to the court documents, but "indicated that death by asphyxiation could not be ruled out."
The manner of death could also not be determined. Toxicology tests showed methamphetamine was in the infant's system, according to the charges.
A professor of pediatrics who is also the division chief at the University of Utah Safe and Healthy Families was later asked by investigators to review the case.
"It is clearly established in the medical literature that allowing an infant to sleep in an adult bed, with covers and/or pillows, is dangerous and may lead to a fatal outcome. Further, it is also well established that prone sleeping — face down — is dangerous. The combination of these two events substantially increases the risk of death," the professor concluded.
Sleeping in the same bed as an infant is also dangerous, she said, and the risk "increases dramatically if the caregiver is overweight, under the influence of drugs or alcohol or is overly tired. It is unambiguous that combining all of these factors — bed-sharing, adult bed with blankets/pillows and prone positioning — would be exceedingly dangerous," she said in court documents.
(She) was evasive with her answers and was continually falling asleep. There were times that she appeared confused and couldn't remember what happened.
Prosecutors further concluded that "this case could not be determined to be a SIDS because by definition, the autopsy would need to be negative and (the infant) was found to have methamphetamine in her system.
"While it is not possible to determine whether (she) died due to overlay or due to positional asphyxia from the autopsy, the scene investigation and interviews with the caregivers are troublesome. The sleep environment in which T.E. died was filled with dangerous, potentially lethal components: pillows, sheets, and other people," the charges state.