Hamilton County authorities are investigating the death of Dakota Arndt, 3, who died Friday.
Justin Dale Bradley, 23, was charged with criminal homicide in the death of Dakota Arndt. He also faces charges of assault and violating a protective order in connection with Dakota's mother, Brianna Kwekel.
Three-year-old Dakota Arndt's toy trucks were still lined up next to the TV on the living room floor of his great-great uncle Felix Leffew's house Saturday evening.
Leffew spoke quietly, solemnly as he recounted how Dakota used to play and eat crackers -- not cookies -- at the house.
Just down the street, at 10710 Jenkins Circle in Soddy-Daisy, was the house where Dakota and his mom, Brianna Kwekel lived. And it was the house where police say Kwekel's boyfriend, Justin Dale Bradley, inflicted fatal injuries on the boy.
Bradley, 23, was charged Saturday night with criminal homicide and is in the Hamilton County Jail, sheriff's office spokewoman Janice Atkinson said in a news release.
Leffew said Kwekel was not home Wednesday night when her baby was rushed to Children's Hospital at Erlanger and placed in intensive care.
She was in jail at Silverdale, the county lockup, serving 48 hours for a DUI. She had left her son with Bradley, her live-in boyfriend, and her brother Cliff Smith, who also lived in the run-down house with chipping tan paint that sits on a street of well-kept mobile homes and small houses with manicured lawns.
Kwekel's cousin, Terry Leffew, Felix's son, said Smith told him and investigators that he left Wednesday night to go to Walmart after Dakota went to sleep. He got home a couple of hours later to find Bradley walking from the back of the house, carrying the limp child and yelling at him to "wake up."
Bradley told Smith that Dakota had drowned in the bathtub. Smith said he immediately called 911 and started to perform CPR, Terry Leffew said. Sheriff's deputies and EMS arrived and took over the life-saving efforts, speeding the little boy to the hospital.
Neighbors, along with the Leffew family, heard that the child drowned. Terry Leffew, who lives up the street and frequently visits his cousin, said he spoke to Bradley that night and believed something was wrong with his story.
When Terry got to the hospital that night, he said, medical reports showed Dakota had experienced severe trauma, with multiple injuries to his skull and a dislocated shoulder. The boy was placed on life support but declared dead Friday night.
Neighbors said that Kwekel and Bradley fought constantly and that the police were often called to the address.
"They got into shouting arguments that could be heard from up and down the quiet neighborhood street," a neighbor said. "I was too afraid some days to go to my mailbox, which is near their house, and even asked the post office to have my mailbox moved."
Bradley, was arrested Aug. 11 for on a charge of assaulting Kwekel. She took out an order of protection against him but had softened and let him move back in, Terry Leffew said.
Terry said the family was shocked by what happened. Even though they didn't like Bradley and had tried to talk Kwekel into leaving him, they never expected something like this to happen to Dakota.
"It's hard to imagine that anyone could do that to a kid," Terry said. "Grown-ups were put here to watch kids, to protect them."
Kwekel decided to donate her boy's organs. The Leffew family said it is at least "a crumb of comfort that some other child might live from this terrible event."
Felix said that Arndt was "as much boy as anyone could be, and he only called me 'Pee-Paw.'.... You see his trucks laying there on the floor -- he just loved to play."
Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at email@example.com or at 423-757-6592.