A laughing, tumbling 2-year-old Jesse Dillon proudly displayed his Batman toys at his grandmother’s house on the West Plains on Friday, three days after doctors say he nearly died after being left for more than five hours in a frigid car on Spokane’s South Hill.
“He will not get into the car seat now,” said Dillon’s mother, Ana Dillon, who still has questions about the events that led to her son being found shivering cold in his father’s 1998 Camaro by police hours after being left alone Tuesday. “He is scared of being, really, in the car.”
The father, Charles Fife, does not have custody of Jesse, Ana Dillon said in a telephone interview Friday. She receives no child support from Fife, who has a criminal history spanning three decades that includes convictions of drug charges and for bank robbery. He was most recently in prison on a 2012 charge after police discovered methamphetamine and heroin in his home.
Dillon works two jobs to support herself and Jesse, who had a tonsillectomy on Dec. 26. His mother took a week to nurse him back to health before leaving the toddler with her sister earlier this week.
That sister was supposed to return Jesse and pick up Dillon from her job as a caregiver Tuesday night. Instead, Dillon received a phone call saying her 2-year-old was being cared for by Child Protective Services.
Dillon suspects her sister went to visit Fife with Jesse and that’s how he ended up in his father’s care.
Dillon’s mother, Deborah Childs, said Dillon came to her home in tears that night, thinking that perhaps her boy had been abducted.
“She came here and cried all night long,” Childs said.
Jesse has been drinking a lot of water, though doctors say it’ll take two weeks for him to fully recover from exposure to temperatures that dipped near the freezing mark. When officers found him, Jesse was wearing nothing but a T-shirt, camouflage pants and a diaper that was soaked through.
On Friday, a giggling Dillon crawled on the lap of his grandfather, Paul Childs. The U.S. Army Reserve veteran, who couldn’t care for Jesse the day he went missing because he and his wife had been struck with a bout of stomach sickness, said it was good to have the toddler back in their care.
“I’m surrounded by girls,” Paul Childs said, referring to his wife and Jesse’s cousin, who was adopted by the couple. “He’s the closest thing I have to a boy.”
Deborah Childs and Ana Dillon woke up Wednesday morning and were waiting outside CPS offices before it opened to pick up Jesse; that’s when Dillon got a call that social workers were at her house looking for her. CPS later released the boy to his mother. Both women said Fife’s wife, Lisa Fife, claimed Jesse as her biological son at the hospital late Tuesday, delaying his return to their care. A phone message left with Lisa Fife was not returned Friday night.
Lisa Fife appeared at her husband’s court hearing Wednesday on a child-abandonment charge.
Ana Dillon said she was angered by the bond imposed in Charles Fife’s case. Jail records show the 51-year-old posted a $250 bond and was released earlier this week.
“What is my child’s life worth? Right there, what they’re showing me, is that it’s worth nothing,” Dillon said. “And that’s just not right.”
Both Dillon and her mother believe Charles Fife was using drugs when he allegedly left Jesse in the car. Deborah Childs said Fife doted on his son, despite not showing up for the boy’s custody hearing some months ago.
“He’d hold him, love him, he’d sit here on the couch and fall asleep with Jesse on his chest,” she said. “It’s just so hard to believe that he was the way he was.
“If he was sober, this would have never happened,” she added. No drug test was performed when Fife was arrested, and he does not face any drug-related charges in the incident.
Ana Dillon talked to her son on speakerphone Friday afternoon as the tyke played with toys and danced with a household broom. She said she’ll live with the guilt of leaving her only child in a situation that turned dangerous, but added she had no choice. She’s a single mother and had to go to work, she said. She also said she wanted to thank the gas station attendant and Spokane police officer who likely saved her child’s life.
“Yes, I messed up and I admit to that, and I’m paying for that right now. I’m paying for what happened to him,” Ana Dillon said. “Jesse’s paying for it. That’s the worst thing I could have ever done.”
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