Sunday, April 20, 2014

Prosecution sets scene in Ottawa wandering child case

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 2/7/2014

A judge considering the case against an Ottawa father whose toddler was found wandering in the street this summer heard the prosecution’s version of events on Friday. Up next: the defense.

But not until 11 a.m. Feb. 24 when the bench trial of Justin Vogeler, 28, continues with witnesses speaking in support of the Ottawa man.

A judge considering the case against an Ottawa father whose toddler was found wandering in the street this summer heard the prosecution’s version of events on Friday. Up next: the defense.

But not until 11 a.m. Feb. 24 when the bench trial of Justin Vogeler, 28, continues with witnesses speaking in support of the Ottawa man.

District Magistrate Judge Kevin Kimball agreed to the move after defense attorney Bryan Hastert informed the court a witness had just been located Friday morning but was unable to appear.

Vogeler faces one misdemeanor count of endangering a child after an Ottawa resident found Vogeler’s toddler about 10:30 a.m. July 24, 2013, at the intersection of East Fifth and South Mulberry streets, Ottawa police said previously.

The lead prosecutor in the case, James Ward, Franklin County deputy attorney, called seven witnesses Friday, including two Ottawa police officers, a former Ottawa Police Department detective, the mother of Vogeler’s children, Vogeler’s roommate at the time of the incident and two people who lived near where the child was found wandering.

Two of the witnesses testified about an earlier incident, which the prosecution said showed the July 24 situation was part of a pattern — not an accident or an isolated incident. A neighbor, Jerry Farrar, said he found Vogeler’s son wandering June 3, 2013, in an alley behind Vogeler’s house, 516 S. Sycamore St., Ottawa.

Farrar first saw Vogeler’s son in the backyard about 7:30 a.m. June 3 when he went out to feed his dogs, he testified, but thought the boy’s father was outside with him working on a car. About an hour later, Farrar said, he went back outside to find Vogeler’s son unattended in the alley crying.

“I grabbed him by his little hand and walked up to his house with him and asked where his daddy was, and he kept saying ‘Bye bye,’” Farrar said. “I knocked on the back door — it was shut at the time — but it did come open when I knocked. I hollered about four times and didn’t get a response. I stayed in the backyard and decided to call 911.”

Tim Ahrens, an officer with the Ottawa Police Department, said he was dispatched June 3 to Vogeler’s home, where he knocked loudly on the back door, front door and windows to see if anyone was at home.

“My pounding on the back door caused a baby to start crying in the house, and that’s when I decided I needed to go around to the windows and the front to try and raise an adult, if there was an adult in the house,” Ahrens said.

“I pounded eight to 10 times on the back door. Not being able to raise anybody, I had to make the decision at that time — the baby was still crying — I needed to make entry so I entered through the back door. I was yelling ‘Police! Police department!’” Ahrens said.  “I made contact with Justin Vogeler. I discovered [Vogeler] was asleep in the front bedroom.”

Ahrens said he told Vogeler how upset he was that the boy was found wandering the streets alone and said that he didn’t want that to happen again. Vogeler told him it would not happen again, Ahrens said.

A few weeks later, on July 24, a man knocked on Linda Fowler’s door and said he had stopped because he had seen a little boy in the street by himself and wondered if Fowler knew whose child it was, Fowler testified Friday.

Fowler, a longtime resident at 521 E. Fifth St., Ottawa, said she had never seen the toddler before and called police.

After law enforcement officers arrived, they began canvassing the area, asking neighboring residents if anyone could identify the toddler and where his house might be, Matthew Rogers, who was assigned to the Ottawa police detective division at the time, said Friday.

“With the help of dispatch, they found a similar-type call of a child wandering by himself a month prior and had an address stamped on that call for service by 522 S. Sycamore,” Rogers said. “I went to that address and made contact with that resident who said the child belonged to 516 S. Sycamore.”

After going around back during the July 24 incident, Rogers knocked on the back door, identifying himself as the police, he said, when Vogeler’s roommate, Rod Michael, came to the door.

“I was trying to figure out if [Michael] was supposed to be responsible for the child, and he told me he came home like any other day, nobody spoke to him and he went to bed,” Rogers said. “At the time I had woke him up, he didn’t have a clue what was going on, just that I’d woken him up and I was asking him questions.”

Michael said Vogeler wasn’t home, but that he might be across town, Rogers said, and he asked Michael to drive with him to where Vogeler might have been. Before leaving, Rogers said, he heard a baby crying inside the house. After asking, Michael said there was an infant inside, but didn’t know who was responsible for caring for the young child.

A friend of Vogeler’s later arrived to identify the toddler and made contact with Vogeler, who later showed up and was arrested, Rogers testified.

Casey Crane, an officer with the Ottawa Police Department, also was on the scene July 24 and spoke to Vogeler.

“I asked Vogeler if he assumed Rod [Michael], his roommate, was to watch the child when he left the house, and his response to me was ‘I guess so,’” Crane said.

On July 25, Rogers said, Zachary Vogeler, a cousin of Justin Vogeler’s — who also was staying at the house at the time of the July 24 incident — came to the police station and said he had asked Michael to watch Vogeler’s children before leaving the house.

“I asked Mr. Michael, ‘Were you responsible for the children?’ and he responded that he was not, and I asked if he knew of anyone else responsible for the children and he didn’t know,” Rogers said. “I informed Zachary that if what he was telling me was the truth, that was OK, but if he was being dishonest, he could be impeding a police investigation and that was a crime.”

Rogers said Zachary Vogeler’s face turned red and he started muttering the words “I don’t know.” Roger testified he told Zachary Vogeler to think about it and come back.

“He said he thought he was mistaken, and that in fact this conversation allegedly happened between he and Rod [Michael] two to three days before [the July 24] incident,” Rogers said.

Michael, who shared a room with Vogeler’s toddler, had been living with Justin Vogeler for a few months before the July 24 incident, Michael testified Friday. Zachary Vogeler had been staying with Justin Vogeler for about two months before the incident, Michael said.

Michael testified he came home from work about 3 a.m. July 24, and after a brief nap in his car, made his way into the house at about 5 a.m.

“I went to go to the bathroom, and Zach was coming out, and I said ‘Hey, how ya doing Zach?’ He said a couple words, but I’m not sure what, and that was it,” Michael said.

Neither Justin Vogeler nor Zachary Vogeler had asked Michael to watch Justin Vogeler’s children July 24, Michael said, testifying Zachary Vogeler left after Michael saw him in the hallway on his way to bed.

Defense attorney Hastert noted what he said appeared to be a discrepancy in Michael’s story.

Rogers’ report on his conversation with Michael had no mention of Zachary Vogeler, Hastert said, and he asked if Michael had made mention of Zachary Vogeler living in the house at the time.

“I don’t remember if I mentioned [Zachary Vogeler],” Michael said. “I can’t remember everything. There were so many questions being asked of me. I’m pretty sure I mentioned Zach Vogeler to [law enforcement]. I relayed every event just as they happened.”

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