published Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

'Suspicious' death of Marion County baby investigated

Colin Russell
Colin Russell
Photo by WRCB-TV Channel 3 /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The "suspicious" death of a 3-month-old boy on Saturday triggered an investigation in Marion County, Tenn., and authorities say they're waiting for autopsy results to show whether a criminal act led to Colin Russell's death.

The baby's father has been named a "person of interest" in the case, but no charges have been filed, according to investigators.

The probe began in the wake of an emergency call from family members when the baby stopped breathing June 17, Marion County Sheriff Ronnie "Bo" Burnett said Tuesday. The child was taken by ambulance to Grandview Medical Center in Jasper, where he was stabilized before being transported to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Burnett said.

"At Vanderbilt, the doctors did find major trauma to the brain," he said. "The doctors felt that [the death] was suspicious."

The Marion County detective who traveled to Nashville after the baby was taken there on June 17 said there were no outwardly visible injuries.

The baby was on life support until Saturday, when family members decided to remove the equipment, Burnett said, and Colin died Saturday night.

Results from an autopsy done Monday are pending.

The baby's parents, Leah Collins, 24, and Chris Russell, 23, have given statements, authorities said, but they would not give any details about what the couple said. The pair have no other children together, Burnett said, but Russell is father to a toddler from another relationship.

Burnett said both parents have agreed to take a lie detector test as soon as Friday. While test results are not admissible in court, Burnett said the tests could be valuable to the investigation.

No other children live in the home the couple share on Sequatchie Lane in Sequatchie, Tenn., and neither has any prior criminal history or child safety issues, authorities said.

Detective Beth Schindel spent several days in Nashville while Colin was being treated. She said medical scans and a magnetic resonance imaging scan done last week showed the baby had retinal hemorrhaging and brain trauma.

Those injuries are similar to those found in cases of shaken-baby syndrome, she said.

Doctors also found the baby had "pre-existing" fractured ribs that already had begun to heal when he was examined, she said. Doctors estimated the fractures "were at least 10 days old," she said.

Since he was born in March, records show Colin had been taken to the doctor for routine checkups, the detective said. She said there had been no reports of injuries then.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at 423-757-6569 or bbenton@timesfreepress.com.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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