Saturday, April 03, 1999

Uncle accused in death of boy, 4

Child was locked 12 hours in truck

The Cincinnati Enquirer

James Adams
Damon Adams
        FOREST PARK — A Forest Park man is accused of causing the death of his 4-year-old nephew after locking the boy in a pickup truck for 12 hours while he went to work.

        James D. Adams, 38, of the 11400 block of Kentbrook Court was arrested at his home Friday and is being held in the Hamilton County Jail on counts of murder, kidnapping, involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment. He is scheduled to be arraigned today.

        Authorities said Mr. Adams locked Damon Adams inside his pickup truck March 16 while he worked at the Madeira Kroger.

        Officials declined to discuss specific details but said Mr. Adams' shift ended at 10 p.m.; and about two hours later, he brought the boy to the Forest Park Fire Department, 1201 W. Kemper Road, to seek emergency care.

        But little could be done. Damon was in the early stages of rigor mortis and was pronounced dead shortly after midnight March 17 at Mercy-Fairfield Hospital, according to the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office.

        Officials said the outside temperature that day had risen to 72 degrees. The boy's body temperature was well beyond 100 degrees and he had dehydrated.

        “One of the things that makes it so tragic is that by all indications, the chances of harm coming to this child were so low,” said Hamilton County Children's Services spokeswoman Mindy Good.

        In 1996, Mr. Adams was named guardian of his nephew after the boy was removed from his “birth home,” officials said.

        Citing confidentiality rules, Ms. Good would say only that there were “longstanding problems” in the home and Mr. Adams stepped forward, offering to care for his nephew.

        He was later awarded sole custody of the boy and raised him along with his own son, James, now 6. James is now in the custody of his mother, who did not live with Mr. Adams, according to police.

        Neighbors described Mr. Adams as a quiet man who kept to himself and seemed to care very much for both boys. The only oddity was that Damon rarely played outside, while his cousin regularly played with other neighborhood children.

        But neighbors said they began to suspect something was wrong, particularly following an October incident in which Damon was found outside his home at about 1 p.m., yelling and crying.

        “I thought he had been locked out,” said neighbor Dan Pitts, adding that he knocked on the front door but got no answer.

        Mr. Pitts said his children knew Damon and “little” James, and he took the boy to his house and tried to calm him down.

        He periodically checked to see if someone had come home, but there was no sign of Mr. Adams or his son. He said he kept Damon until he had to go to work at about 4 p.m.

        Another neighbor took Damon and kept him until about 9:30 p.m.

        Mr. Pitts' wife, Tracye, said both she and the other neighbor kept checking, but no one ever came home. She said they looked around the exterior of the Adams house and found the back door open.

        “That's when I realized that Damon had somehow got out of the house and come around to the front,” she said, adding that the neighbor went inside but didn't find anyone.

        A short time later, she said, she called police, who arrived and took Damon with them.

        Investigators would not go into specifics about that incident, but said it was the only other time they had had contact with Mr. Adams.

        Ms. Good said Mr. Adams was cleared of any wrongdoing in that case.

        About two weeks later, Mrs. Pitts said, she saw Mr. Adams and offered to baby-sit the two boys, but he never took her up on it. She said she later heard that a baby sitter was responsible for leaving Damon alone in the October incident.

        Investigators would not say why Mr. Adams was charged with both murder and involuntary manslaughter, but said the kidnapping count covers restraining a person under the age of 13 causing serious physical harm.

        Forest Park police called it one of the most disturbing and detailed cases they've come across.

        “This has been a long-involved process, very detailed. We checked and cross-checked everything,” Lt. Dave Love said.

Rachel Melcer contributed to this story.


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