SPRINGFIELD, Mich. (WOOD) — A West Michigan man is expected to stand trial on felony charges in the March death of an 11-year-old girl who died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Harold “Tom” Ward is facing charges of involuntary manslaughter and second-degree child abuse in death of Chloe Stevens.
Ward was running an upholstery shop out of a building on West Michigan Avenue in Springfield, near Battle Creek, when the tragedy happened. Police said Ward, his girlfriend Sandee Confer and her daughter Chloe were living in the back of the shop at the time.
Police said the building had lost power, so on the night of March 2, the family was running a gas-powered generator inside the building to power a kerosene heater. Investigators said they failed to properly vent the fumes. Emergency responders were called to the scene by a man who owns the building next door and discovered the three victims unconscious inside. All three were all taken to the hospital. Ward and Confer eventually recovered, but Chloe died the next day.
Investigators at the time called it “terrible accident.”
“He’s not charged with intentionally killing anyone,” Calhoun County Prosecutor David Gilbert said of the charges against Ward. “The allegation is gross negligence.”
The charges were officially filed against Ward in September at the conclusion of a police investigation. He waived his preliminary hearing last week and the case was sent on to circuit court.
Ward is out of jail on a personal recognizance bond. He could spend up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
“Most people understand if you have a Salamander, some other heater or an electric generator, it needs to be outside,” Gilbert told 24 Hour News 8 Monday. “It needs to be vented outside. If you have it inside, you’re taking a chance that’s someone’s going to die. And if someone does die, you’re going to be responsible for that.”
Ward’s defense attorney fired back, saying charges never should have been filed in the case.
“I think it’s a bogus case. It should be dismissed. Unfortunately, terrible accidents happen, and that’s what this is. There was no intent. He was trying to protect this child from the cold,” attorney John Vincent said.
“If he (Ward) actually understood how it (the generator) worked, he wouldn’t have put himself and his fiancée in danger, too,” Vincent continued.
In March, Target 8 learned that Children’s Protective Services had previously received complaints about the safety of the girl’s housing, including at least one concerning how the family was heating their home. At the time of Chloe’s death, it was unclear who knew the family was staying in the upholstery shop or for how long.
“CPS wasn’t doing their job as far, as I’m concerned,” Vincent said. “If anyone is liable, it’s CPS in this matter.”
A trial date has not yet been set.