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Boy who weighed just 33 pounds died of dehydration, autopsy shows

An autopsy concluded that a 7-year-old Stevens County boy, whose adoptive mother claimed he had a bizarre drinking disorder, died of dehydration last winter.

The autopsy said the dehydration was due to an undetermined cause, according to Spokane Medical Examiner Sally Aiken. Aiken said the autopsy can not be publicly released – only the cause and manner of death.

Tyler DeLeon died on his birthday, Jan. 13, after arriving at a Spokane hospital reportedly suffering from the flu. He weighed just 33 pounds and was severely dehydrated, according to an initial finding from the medical examiner’s office and court records.

His death led to a criminal investigation into his adoptive mother, Carole Ann DeLeon, and her 28-year-old daughter, Christina DeLeon-Burns, according to a Stevens County Sheriff’s Office report. Prosecutor Jerry Wetle, who has not announced whether he plans to file charges in the case, was traveling Tuesday and unavailable for comment.

Stevens County sheriff’s Capt. Michael George said Detective Jerry Taylor has delivered the investigation to the prosecutor’s office.

“When you have dehydration with a 7-year-old, you would think there would be some kind of medical reason,” George said. “When you don’t have a medical reason, what do you have? We are looking anywhere from abuse up to homicide by abuse. But, that’s not my decision.”

Carl Oreskovich, attorney for Carole DeLeon, did not return several calls seeking comment on Tuesday. In an interview earlier this spring, Oreskovich said Tyler “would drink excessively and eat excessively.”

Carole DeLeon had previously told officials at Tyler’s elementary school that the boy had an eating and drinking disorder that caused him to try to drink from toilets and puddles, and she instructed officials to strictly monitor his drinking, according to court records.

Court records and documents from the state’s Child Protective Services say investigators were unable to find medical documentation substantiating the claim that Tyler had an eating disorder. His pediatrician’s office said Tyler had no medical restrictions on his food or drink, according to a CPS record filed after the boy’s death.

Child Protective Services received at least eight referrals of problems at the home since 1996, including reports of bruises, a broken bone and a burn on another boy’s face, according to CPS documents. Each time, the agency determined that the allegations were either inconclusive or unfounded – meaning investigators did not believe abuse or neglect had occurred.

On Jan. 4, the agency received a referral after Tyler arrived at Lake Spokane Elementary School with bruises on his face. He told a teacher he fell on the stairs but would not discuss the injuries further, according to CPS records.

A social worker did not visit the DeLeon home in the nine days before Tyler died.

The Department of Social and Health Services, which includes Child Protective Services, will launch an external fatality review into Tyler’s death. The independent reviews – which draw on community experts to evaluate the agency’s performance – are relatively rare. The agency conducted just two external reviews last year.

“It’s usually because there are a lot of unanswered questions,” said Kathy Spears, a CPS spokeswoman. “This is not a law enforcement investigation. This is a look at the child welfare system, not just DSHS, but our community partners as well.”

External review teams are convened “in select cases when a child dies of apparent abuse by their parent or caretaker and the case was actively receiving services at the time of death,” according to an agency statement.