State records add details in Kentucky toddler's horrible death

Kayden Branham Daniels, 20 months old, died after ingesting a drain cleaner allegedly used in cooking meth. He was about a year old in this photo.
Kayden Branham Daniels, 20 months old, died after ingesting a drain cleaner allegedly used in cooking meth. He was about a year old in this photo.

Kayden Branham, a toddler who died in 2009 after drinking drain cleaner, was at the Wayne County trailer where adults were using the chemical to make methamphetamine because there was no food, water or electricity where he'd been staying earlier, according to a state file.

The 20-month-old boy and his 14-year-old mother, Alisha Branham, had been placed under the supervision of the state system for abused and neglected children before Kayden's death, a circuit judge said in a previous ruling.

The harrowing details of Kayden's death were included in a file the Cabinet for Health and Family Services released Monday after a lawsuit filed by the Lexington Herald-Leader and the (Louisville) Courier Journal for the records.

However, the redacted 13-page file is not the complete record of the state's protective oversight of Kayden and his mother before his death.

Herald-Leader Editor Peter Baniak said the newspaper will continue to pursue other records about the toddler.

"The Herald-Leader strongly believes that the state should produce all records in this case, including any that reflect the cabinet's contact with the family and its conduct prior to Kayden's death," Baniak said. "Without such transparency, there is no way for the public to assess whether the state child-welfare system appropriately handled this case. That's why we took this case to court in the first place."

The two newspapers will be in court Tuesday asking Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd to hold the state in contempt and to force it to release all of the records.

When he ordered the state to release the records, Shepherd said: "While it should go without saying, it perhaps must be spelled out in the context of this case: It is not unwarranted for the public, and the press, to want to know what happened when a 20-month-old child in the care and legal custody of the Commonwealth of Kentucky winds up dead after drinking toxic substances in a meth lab."

Vikki Franklin, a spokeswoman for the cabinet, said the agency had released the records that were subject to Shepherd's order. Other officials were not available to comment on the details in the records.

The information that was blocked from the records included the name of the person with whom Kayden, also known as Kayden Daniels, and his mother were staying before moving to the trailer — the person who had no water or electricity.

However, another family member identified that person as Alisha's mother, Lisa Branham.

Linda Anderson, Kayden's great-grandmother, told the Herald-Leader that Alisha had asked a caseworker to place her and her son in another foster home.

Anderson said Alisha and Kayden were at the trailer because they had no place else to go.

Alisha's mother "couldn't keep a home for 'em, and social services knew it," Anderson said.

A 'fractured family'

Before Kayden's death, his teen-age mother had an "extensive involvement" with the cabinet, according to the report, which did not detail what that included. Alisha Branham had been sent to live with her father, Larry Bran ham, who had faced several criminal charges.

Alisha Branham knew meth was being cooked in the trailer where they were staying, according to the file. The report does not say who decided to send Alisha to live there, but the implication is that it was social workers. Her 19-year-old boyfriend, Bryan Daniels, also lived there.

The state's report outlines a family history that included what the state considered the highest category of risk factors, including poverty, chaotic living situations, domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health problems.

"This family is fractured and consists of many branches," the report said, noting that Alisha had no real parental guidance and set her own rules and made her own decisions.

She hid her pregnancy from her family for six months.

She told social workers she moved to the trailer because she wanted to do a better job providing for Kayden, and the home where she was previously had no refrigerator to keep his milk cold.

"I was trying to do better for my baby by being able to give him a bath and cold milk," Alisha Branham said.

Branham said that she knew people made meth at the trailer and that she tried to clean up afterward so her son wouldn't be exposed to it. "I knowed Kayden shouldn't be around meth," she said. "That's why we always took him to stay with somebody else when they cooked."

Branham said she didn't see the coffee cup containing Liquid Fire sitting on a table late on May 30, 2009.

Kayden, who had wanted juice, drank from the cup of caustic liquid. When he dropped the cup, his lips and mouth were swelling, and Alisha and Bryan Daniels, the toddler's father, rushed him to the hospital.

"He kept getting sicker and sicker," she said. "He was saying 'mum.' Then he just stopped moving and he died."

Kayden died from respiratory failure caused by internal chemical burns and from ingesting the poison, according to the file.

Boy loved Winnie the Pooh

The day after Kayden's death, social workers came to the Monticello Police Department, where state police were trying to talk to Alisha Branham, Bryan Daniels and others.

Alisha, a tall, thin girl who'd been diagnosed with anxiety problems, wept and screamed, sucked her thumb, pounded the wall, gagged as if she would vomit and begged alternately to see her mommy and her baby, according to the report.

Nearly hysterical, she talked about the little boy who loved Winnie the Pooh and SpongeBob and who enjoyed feeding the chickens, according to the report.

"I need to be with my baby. I need to help him, he can't be dead," the report quoted Branham. "Maybe I can get him to open his eyes."

"He's gonna be in the cold ground, he needs me."

Father charged

Some of the others charged in connection with the meth operation at the trailer appeared to be impaired at the police station, social workers said.

One, Danny Anderson, the great-uncle of the dead boy, jumped up and down on a cot in a holding cell, according to the report.

Another, Wesley Bell, laughed and said, "They say that baby is dead. That ---- ain't right," the report said.

Police charged Anderson, Bell and others, including Bryan Daniels, with making meth at the trailer.

Police also charged Daniels with murder. His case is pending.

His attorney, Mark Stanziano of Somerset, said Daniels did not make meth and committed no crime in relation to his son's death.

Police initially charged Alisha Branham with murder and making meth. However, her case was handled in juvenile court, where cases are confidential.

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