Live Oak, Fla. — A state inquiry continued Thursday without new details into the deaths of three children trapped inside a chest freezer while playing outdoors four days ago in this north Florida town.
Suwannee County Sheriff Sam St. John said the deaths appeared accidental but he nonetheless turned the case over to the regional office of the State Attorney’s Office for review.
He said the State Attorney’s office for the Third Judicial District had requested additional information and clarification. An autopsy by a regional state medical examiner determined the children died from accidental asphyxiation and that no signs of trauma were found on their bodies.
The children were located Sunday afternoon inside an unlocked, 5-cubic-foot freezer with a hasp latch on the lid that sheriff’s investigators said slipped down over the lock loop just below the lid when the children were inside, preventing them from getting out.
They were identified Thursday as 6-year-old Dawlton Lee DelBridge and his 1-year-old sister Kayliegh Mae Meeks, who were in the care of their grandmother, Elaine Richardson. And Brook’Lyn Leigh Jackson, 4, daughter of Stephanie Jackson, also present at the time of the tragedy.
Funeral services for Dawlton and Kayleigh were scheduled for Friday at 3 p.m. at San Pedro Baptist Church in nearby Perry, Florida. The Jackson family said it would hold a private ceremony at a later date for Brook’Lyn.
St. John said the deaths occurred when the children were left to play alone on a front yard trampoline while one of the women went to the bathroom inside the home they shared. Upon returning 10 to 20 minutes later, the sheriff said, she discovered the missing children, causing the two women to search the grounds and a nearby vacant home for 20 to 30 minutes.
They eventually located the children in the chest freezer, which was within 10 feet of the trampoline, the sheriff said. They were not breathing.
St. John said the women called 911 and tried in vain to resuscitate the children. Emergency technicians first on the scene also tried to revive them to no avail.
“It’s just really, really heartbreaking,” the sheriff told reporters the next day. “I really believe it was an accident, just a really horrific, terrible accident.”