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KLAPHEKE CASE: Could death of Dyess toddler have been prevented?

By Ariana Garza, Weekend Anchor/Crime & Courts Reporter, agarza@ktxs.com
Published On: Nov 20 2012 07:54:08 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 27 2014 03:24:37 PM CST
ABILENE, Texas -

Testimony in a military hearing Monday revealed several parties had a part to play in the tragic death of 22-month-old Tamryn Klapheke.

Tamryn died at her home on Dyess Air Force Base Aug. 28. Her 22-year-old mother, Tiffany, called 911 the same day to report Tamryn was unresponsive.

An autopsy showed Tamryn was severely malnourished and dehydrated. The toddler even suffered chemical burns from her own waste.

Her younger sister Tatum and older sister Taberlee survived the same neglect. Doctors with Hendrick Medical Center testified Tatum was within a few days of dying and both sisters showed developmental delays.

The doctors said the children smelled and looked so bad, anyone they came in contact with them should have known they were suffering.

Tiffany Klapheke was jailed Aug. 29 on three felony counts of injury to a child. As of Tuesday, she is in the Taylor County jail on bond totaling $500,000.

Tiffany's airman husband, Thomas, was deployed at the time of the child's death. He returned shortly after and filed for divorce.

Police detective Eric Vickers testified Thomas was not the only man in Tiffany's life. They obtained text message records from Tiffany and Perez--showing they had an affair and Perez had moved into her home after Thomas deployed. Vickers said Tiffany even became pregnant with Perez's child and got an abortion.

Thomas knew about the affair and that the pair were living in his home.

Perez was subject to a military hearing Monday. He is charged with adultery, child endangerment and failing to report child abuse or neglect in connection to the Klapheke case.

Lt. Col. Sandra Kent, the investigating officer in Perez's hearing, has approximately 10 days to make her recommendation to 7th Bomb Wing Commanding Officer Col. Glen D. VanHerck. He will decide whether all, some or none of the charges will be pursued against Perez.

VanHerck will decide whether Perez will undergo a special court martial under himself or a general court martial under General Robin Rand.

Testimony revealed Tiffany frequently locked her oldest children, Tamryn and Taberlee, in their bedroom and the home was covered with animal and human waste. A Dyess official testified he could even smell the stench while standing up to 10 feet away from the home.

Although Perez has a son in Peru, he told police he did not think he could tell Tiffany how to be a parent. He never reported her.

Psychotherapist Marc Orner said "avoidance" seems to be a common theme in the Klapheke case.

"Most of us don't have the right to tell anybody else how to be a parent. But when you notice something and you're aware that something is really out of the ordinary, then it is incumbent upon you to say something to that person or to the authorities," he said.

The Dyess Family Advocacy Center investigated nine cases of child and medical neglect against the Klapheke's since 2010. Seven of those investigations were substantiated and three occurred the day of Tamryn's death.

Edward Wilcock, a DFAC representative, testified the center closed its last case before the death in December 2011 because they had seen improvement.

The center does not have the authority to take kids away from their parents.

Child Protective Services, however, has that authority. Wilcock said CPS was uncooperative and they made several failed attempts to contact the agency.

Abilene police are currently investigating CPS supervisors Bit Whitaker, Gretchen Denny, Barbara McDaniel and Geneva Schroeder for covering up the agency's involvement in the Klapheke home. Each of the supervisors have been put on paid, emergency leave pending the criminal investigation.

Caseworker Claudia Gonzales violated CPS policy when she closed an approximate 11-month investigation into the home just six days before the toddler's death, without a mandatory final visit. Gonzales was put on administrative leave and later resigned.