Clay County couple charged with abuse after toddler inhales fumes

bestep@herald-leader.comAugust 11, 2012 

MANCHESTER — Police charged a Clay County couple with abuse after their 11-month-old son inhaled fumes from what officers think was a toxic substance that can be used in making methamphetamine.

The boy sustained a burn on his abdomen and chemical irritation in his lungs, Kentucky State Police said in a news release Saturday.

State police charged the boy's parents, Sonny Gray, 44, and Christina Collett, 36, of Big Creek, with second-degree criminal abuse.

State police arrested the two Friday night. They are being held in the Clay County Detention Center.

The toddler, whose name police did not release, was on a ventilator for a time. He was in stable condition Saturday at University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital, according to the release.

State child-protection workers took custody of the child, who will be placed with a relative when he is released from the hospital, said state trooper Justin Oliver, the lead investigator.

Police began investigating after the boy's parents brought him to the emergency room at Manchester Memorial Hospital on Aug. 5 because he was having trouble breathing.

Raleigh Benge, a Manchester police officer who was at the hospital on a call, said the parents said the toddler had choked on a piece of meat.

However, Benge, who is certified to clean up meth labs, said he leaned over the boy and smelled a strong chemical odor he associates with the manufacture of meth in small homemade labs.

Benge notified state police and assisted in a search of the boy's home.

Police did not find a meth lab. However, they did find liquid in a clear jar on a shelf in the kitchen that was low enough for the toddler to reach, according to Oliver and Benge.

Oliver said it's clear the boy inhaled fumes from the chemical. He said he did not know whether the boy drank any of the liquid.

The criminal-abuse charge against Gray and Collett is an allegation that they placed the child in a situation that could result in his death or serious physical injury, Oliver said.

He declined to identify the substance police found but said he thinks it is one commonly used in the process of creating a chemical reaction in homemade labs to produce meth.

"It's a really strong chemical smell," he said. Oliver said he had sent samples of the liquid to the state crime lab for testing.

Police want to figure out whether the boy's parents cleaned up components of a meth lab before taking the toddler to the hospital.

Gray was indicted in May and again in July on meth charges. A woman named Christina Fee was charged with him in one case; that is the same person as Christina Collett, Oliver said.

One indictment alleges that the two manufactured meth in September 2010. The indictment also accuses them of endangering two children who were in the home when the adults had components used in making meth.

The other indictment charges Gray with trafficking in meth in March 2011 and with illegally possessing another drug.

When he was indicted in May, Gray said in a court document he was unemployed, had no car and received $600 a month in food stamps.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1.

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