Papers: Boy laid in own waste

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Court documents describe filthy house and parents who chose to medicate themselves, but not their children.

A 4-year-old boy, whose skin had turned a "modeling clay gray color," laid feverish on a couch stained with his own waste. His stepfather, hours earlier, sought medical attention for an infected finger.

Court papers filed in Perry County tell a chilling and gruesome story of how investigators think Ethan Patrick Williams died and how his caretakers neglected him until he was too sick to recover.

Ethan was suffering from "overwhelming sepsis due to an untreated infection in his right thighbone and hip," doctors at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital in St. Louis told Perry County sheriff's deputies. Sepsis is a toxic condition caused by massive bacterial infection.

Ethan's mother, Emily A. Altom, 25, and stepfather, Michael D. Altom, 25, turned themselves in at the Perry County Sheriff's Department shortly after 11 a.m. Tuesday. They each face charges of voluntary manslaughter for medical neglect and three counts of child endangerment.

The manslaughter charges carry a possible prison term of 5 to 15 years. The endangerment charges carry a possible prison term of seven years for each count.

Ethan would have celebrated his fifth birthday Tuesday. He died 29 days after scratching his legs in a bicycle accident. The Altoms waited five days before taking him to the Perry County Hospital emergency room.

No court date has been set for the Altoms. To be released on bond, they each would have to post $10,000 cash.

The Altoms took Ethan for treatment about 9 p.m. on Aug. 1 -- several hours after Michael Altom sought treatment for his infected finger, according to a probable cause statement filed with the charges by Perry County sheriff's Cpl. Jason Kelley.

A probable cause statement is only one side of the story. It lists the reasons why law officers believe charges should be filed.

On Aug. 3, at the urging of a state social worker, Kelley and Capt. Delbert Riehn visited the Altom's home on Perry County Road 628. They found a filthy home, reeking from "a foul, offensive odor" with a kitchen floor covered with trash, dried food and dishes, Kelley wrote.

The kitchen counter tops were stacked with dirty dishes to the upper cabinets, Kelley wrote, and the refrigerator was moldy and mildewed. There was little food in the home, he wrote.

Cleanliness did not exist in the home, he wrote. A small path through the empty beer cans, wine cooler bottles, broken toys and dirty dishes led to the bedrooms. Another path led to the only working bathroom, where the toilet was stained and the tub was filled with junk.

When Ethan soiled himself while he lay feverish and lethargic on the couch, Emily Altom told a social worker, she took him outside and used a garden hose to wash him off, Kelley wrote.

Two other children lived in the home, Ethan's older brother Holton Williams from Emily Altom's first marriage to Danny Wayne Williams and Dorian Altom, a 2-year-old. They are in foster care, Riehn said Tuesday.

"What really aggravates me is the lady didn't have a job," Riehn said. "Why couldn't she clean the place up?"

Emily Altom told officers she had the flu the week before Ethan hurt himself, and that Ethan was sick at the same time. She sought medical treatment for herself, Kelley wrote.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the case, Kelley said, was the parents' actions about medical treatment. "They both went to the doctor for themselves, but they didn't take the kids."

The Altoms moved from the residence to Ste. Genevieve shortly after their children were taken from the home, Riehn said.

On Tuesday afternoon, the single-wide mobile home with vines crawling up the sides sat deserted in a pasture along Perry County Road 628. Streaked on the sides from the rain washing dirt off the faded gray roof, the home sits surrounded by trash, children's toys and various tools and furniture.

A ragged linoleum floor, viewed through a glass door, is littered with broken toys and trash. Garbage bags are piled up against one wall.

On a table in the yard, there is a super-size water gun and a toy truck. A sled lays nearby.

The trailer is uninhabitable, Riehn said.

A nearby neighbor, Linda Kiefer, said she never thought the children were being neglected. She said she has known Emily Altom for about 10 years. The trailer the Altoms lived in sits on land near her mother's home.

Sometimes the children would walk the short distance down the gravel road to her home, Kiefer said. The children "weren't dirty or anything like that. They always talked to me."

About six months ago, the county placed a yellow "Caution Children Playing" sign near the Altoms's home. There are no children in the area now.

335-6611, extension 126

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