“The mother of a 3-year-old girl who died after playing in an inflatable pool told detectives her 5-year-old son drowned his sister, [Daytona Beach] Police Chief Mike Chitwood said Wednesday.
“It is our understanding that the 5-year-old boy has behavioral issues and they (the family) were in the process of getting him help, Chitwood said.”
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That’s how the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s follow-up to a story on Wednesday would have read, in part, in today’s editions. Editors had approved the story for today’s paper. It was budgeted on the daily list of stories prepared and circulated by editors, and set to run. In early evening Wednesday, however, News-Journal Publisher Michael Redding, according to a News-Journal staffer who requested anonymity, killed the story.
“Chief Chitwood confirmed today that the 5-year-old brother drowned his sister and that the family is seeking behavioral health for the brother, and the justice reporters went full steam ahead with a folo,” the staffer wrote, using newspaper shorthand. “Then Pat Rice called after 7 p.m. to tell the editors that Michael had spiked the story. He didn’t feel the news that the 5-year-old had drowned his sister merited a folo.” Rice is the News-Journal’s editor.
The staffer subsequently added, referring to the story about the drowning: “Every major TV station out of Orlando has it, but the only media source in Daytona Beach doesn’t. Only Redding knows why, my guess is that someone has given him heat for all the coverage of local child drownings, but what does he expect? The paper to ignore people dying? It’s disgraceful.”
The staffer made a point noting that he or she had “frankly disagreed with your last article about Michael Redding and the new management.” (The article, summing up the News-Journal’s first year under new ownership, reported on Redding’s offer of cash bonuses to newsroom staffers if they sold subscriptions and advertising.)
Rice and Redding did not respond to an email asking why the follow-up story on the drowning had been spiked.
The obviously tragic dimensions of the story aside, there appears to be no controversy surrounding the reporting of the story, or of authorities making information available.
Jimmie Flynt, the Daytona Beach Police Department’s spokesman, had put out a news release saying that the drowning “appears to be a tragic accident.” He then wrote, in an email to reporters, that “During the course of the investigation, Detectives learned that the brother may have had some involvement with his sister death. The Department of Children and Families has taken over the case.”
Wednesday evening, Orlando’s WESH 2 news reported the story this way: “A 5-year-old boy, brother of 3-year-old Victoria Cunningham, held the girl under water while they played in a small pool set up in the garage of this Derbyshire home. The boy allegedly told his mother Tonya Causey that, and she told police. But DCF doesn’t take it as gospel yet.”
Florida leads the country in the drowning of children under age 5. The drowning of the 3-year-old girl, the daughter of 38-year-old Tonya Causey, on Tuesday evening (April 19), is “the fifth child to drown in Volusia County this year, and the second Daytona Beach 3-year-old to drown in the past month,” the News-Journal’s Andrew Gant had reported Wednesday.
The News-Journal has been striving to project a “positive” image for the city and the county in an attempt to woo advertisers and readers, who have been migrating from the paper in large numbers to other media.
Several weeks ago a News-Journal business writer was fired after publishing results of a survey that showed Daytona Beach to be the state’s second-most dangerous spring break destination after Orlando.
Follow-up on stories such as Tuesday’s drowning are routine, particularly when the original story raises questions that are then answered—as one question was, by authorities. The question had been raised by the headline on the News-Journal’s original story: “Police: Boy, 5, may have been involved in sister’s drowning.”
NSBNews.net, a news site run by Henry Frederick, a former News-Journal staffer, had broken the story of the drowning within two hours of the incident (the story was written by John Bozzo, also a former News-Journal staffer), and ran a follow-up the next day that had police suspecting the 5 year old’s involvement in the drowning.