State made critical mistakes leading up to death of 8-month-old Largo boy, investigators say

Baby was found dead in sweltering mobile home
Posted at 3:51 PM, Sep 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-26 17:52:58-04

A troubling new state report shows the state made critical mistakes leading up to the death of an eight-month-old baby boy, who died in a sweltering mobile home in Largo in July.

The boy, and his two-year-old sister, were left in the care of their father, William Hendrickson III.

The kids' mother, Elizabeth Rutenbeck, had been arrested on July 22, 2017, and was in jail at the time her baby, William Hendrickson IV, died.  

Staff from multiple agencies had contact, either direct or indirect, with the Hendrickson/Rutenbeck family on July 26, 2017, the day before William died. However, case workers never reported any danger or the need to take immediate action. 

The case manager made an unannounced home visit at approximately 11:00 a.m. Mr. Hendrickson was upset that the case manager was there as he thought his case was closed. The father took the case manager to the room where staying and the worker noted that the room
was extremely hot and that the child's hair was soaked with sweat. Hendrickson reported that neither the fan nor the air conditioner in his room worked, according to the findings.

The case manager had concerns, however; did not feel that there was present danger and left the child in the home with in the care of father, according to the findings. A formal safety plan was never created, according to the report.

At approximately 4:43 p.m., on the same day, a call was made to the Florida Abuse Hotline.

The caller reported that they had seen the child earlier in the day in a room with no air conditioning and that the child was soaking wet due to the heat and there were concerns that the kids were not properly cared for while in the father’s care, the report says.

However, state investigators found that while normally, that call would have been coded as an "immediate response" the call was coded improperly as a "24-hour response."

On July 27, 2017, the department received notification that 8-month-old William Hendrickson IV was found unresponsive in the family’s mobile home, in a bedroom where the temperature reached approximately 109 degrees.

 Upon the child protective investigator’s arrival at the home, the father, 25-year-old William Hendrickson III, was observed holding the deceased infant in his arms. At the time of the child's death, Hendrickson tested positive for marijuana and benzodiazepine, state investigators said.

Hendrickson was charged with Aggravated Manslaughter in the death of his son and Child Neglect for the condition of his 2-year-old daughter, who was also inside the house. She was transported to All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg due to severe dehydration.

A judge kept Hendrickson's bond at $150,000 and says if he gets out, he cannot have contact with his 2-year-old daughter unless given permission by someone at the Dept. of Children and Families.