A 7-month-old girl is fighting for life at Children's Hospital at Erlanger and her mother's boyfriend is behind bars in Rhea County, Tenn., in connection with her injuries.
Rhea County Sheriff's Office investigator Rocky Potter said Wednesday that a 911 call came in last Thursday that a child wasn't breathing, and investigators and paramedics went to a home on Shady Lane, east of Dayton.
As soon as they saw the little girl's condition, EMTs called for air transport. In the ambulance, awaiting the helicopter, Potter said others saw possible signs of abuse that could cause "shaken baby syndrome." He said the little girl's injuries were mostly concentrated on her body from the shoulders up.
"It was an emergency hands-on situation for both the paramedics, so they instructed one of our officers to drive the ambulance to the hospital," Potter said. The paramedics continued to work on the baby as the officer drove them to meet the medical helicopter.
While the baby was being flown to Chattanooga, Potter said, he contacted medical officials at Erlanger to say he recognized issues similar to those in previous "shaken baby" cases he has investigated. Violently shaking an infant can damage the child's skull, brain and spinal cord.
The baby was taken to Erlanger, where she remains in pediatric intensive care. Potter said her condition is basically unchanged from the day she was admitted.
The mother's boyfriend, Jesse Lynn Wyatt, 24, of Cumberland County, was taking care of the baby and called 911. Potter said Wyatt and the baby's mother had been staying with friends in Rhea County for two or three weeks.
Authorities have not released the baby's mother's name and she has not been charged.
Wyatt is charged with aggravated child abuse and aggravated child neglect or endangerment, both felonies, under a 2005 statute called Haley's Law, Potter said.
Haley's law stiffens potential punishment for defendants. Under the law, the charge of aggravated child abuse and aggravated child neglect or endangerment becomes a class A felony when it involves a victim 8 years old or younger or one who is "mentally defective, mentally incapacitated or suffers from a physical disability," the law states.
Class A felonies in Tennessee carry a penalty of 15 to 60 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000, according to state law.
Wyatt also was charged in Rhea County with possession of prescription drugs without a prescription and possession of drug paraphernalia, Potter said. He also is wanted on warrants from Cumberland County and elsewhere.
Wyatt was arraigned on the charges in Rhea County on Tuesday. He is being held on a $150,000 bond and faces his next court appearance on March 14.
Updated March 1 at 11:14 p.m. with additional information.