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Foster mom charged in toddler's death was meant to be his lifeline

TAMPA — There was little in the history of Latamara Stackhouse Flythe that would have led child welfare workers to question placing a toddler with the 43-year-old single mother.

She lived in a respectable Riverview neighborhood in a home she shared with two children, a dog and a rabbit named Hip Hop. A college graduate, she had no criminal record, and her daughter was in the National Honor Society.

Even Flythe's day job, marketing, was for an agency that supports the state's foster care system.

But she was inexperienced at fostering children, having only gained her license in June. In September, she was asked to look after Aedyn Agminalis, a child who doctors said had several health issues including developmental delay and "failu

rushed to the hospital Dec. 7 unconscious and with head injuries. Days later, he was removed from life support. Flythe has been charged with first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse.

During the boy's final months of life he endured frequent medical complications with three stays in hospital prior to the final 911 call. He was hospitalized with flu and fever on Sept. 27 and a feeding tube was put in place Nov. 10 because he was not eating enough, hospital records show.

The repeated trips to the hospital should have meant the boy was considered for placement with medically trained foster parents, a Florida Department of Children and Families investigation into his death found.

Each medical emergency was recorded in an incident log but no one at Eckerd Kids, the agency that runs Hillsborough's child welfare system, was checking for multiple reports on the same child, the DCF investigation concluded.

Eckerd officials said they now have a system that will flag repeated medical incidents, and they plan to hire an employee to take on that responsibility.

But some who know Flythe say she is taking the fall for the system's failure. She was given a child who required more comprehensive care than a working foster mom could provide, they said. The charges she faces do not gel with their memories of a woman who dotes on her children and who once posted on Facebook, "Giving up is not an option when you have someone calling you mommy."

"I don't believe this," said her uncle, Richard Stackhouse. "She's just a decent person; she always has been. They're looking in the wrong place."

• • •

Aedyn's stay with Flythe was meant to be a stepping stone toward a new life with a professional couple from North Carolina who wanted to adopt him.

The little boy who loved his Pokémon toy had been removed from biological parents who often left him alone in a filthy bedroom, child welfare investigators said.

Under his foster mom's care, Aedyn initially gained weight and began eating solid food.

Flythe, too, had known difficulties as a child growing up in Virginia. In describing her early life to child welfare workers, she said that she never knew her biological father and that a surrogate father had a drinking problem when she was young.

But her uncle said she turned into a kind person.

"She was raised to be respectful," he said.

Flythe earned a bachelor's degree in English with a minor in mass communications from Hampton University.

Seven years ago, after divorcing her police officer husband, she moved her family to Florida.

On her application to be a foster mom, she wrote that she loves children and "has a heart for helping kids in need."

She listed her income as about $70,000. That included child support and pay from her job as marketing manager with Children's Home Network, a care agency subcontracted by Eckerd Kids to recruit, license and support foster parents.

Flythe's application to foster was handled by A Door of Hope, another Eckerd subcontractor.

Court records show Flythe had a financial incentive to foster, too. She was twice sued by landlords for being delinquent on her rent, the most recent being in February 2016. The minimum board rate for fostering a child age 5 and under is $439 per month.

Her approval to foster was granted on June 2. She was licensed as having capacity for two children in addition to her daughter, 16, and son, 12.

Within her first month, she was caring for three foster children, Eckerd records show. The case manager who approved a "short-term" waiver for her to house an extra child described her as "patient and not easily overwhelmed."

During the time she cared for Aedyn, Flythe was investigated in October after another foster child in her care arrived at day care with a bruise on his leg. That inquiry was closed with no evidence of maltreatment found, but Aedyn's case manager was never notified of the inquiry, the DCF investigation noted.

Hillsborough County detectives believe the injuries that led to Aedyn's death happened just after a child welfare worker left their home on Dec. 7. That day, Aedyn had been discharged from yet another hospital stay, this time because he appeared to have difficulty breathing after eating chunkier baby food.

The child welfare worker told detectives that Aedyn was awake if a little lethargic when she left at 7:50 p.m. Just seven minutes later, a call to 911 was placed from the home.

The boy was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital South in Riverview before being transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa. He was resuscitated but doctors could find no brain activity.

The arrest warrant states Aedyn sustained trauma to the head that resulted in hemorrhaging and death. A doctor also noted hemorrhaging of the spinal column.

Medical records obtained by the Tampa Bay Times state that on admission, the boy had two "linear red lines on his forehead and left side of forehead with yellowish, purple bruising." An examination found retinal hemorrhaging behind both eyes and in the optic nerve sheath, which doctors said is typically the result of a great amount of force, according to sheriff's Detective Jennifer Sands.

During Flythe's bond hearing, Sands recounted her interview with the suspect.

Sands said Flythe told her that after the child welfare worker left, she changed Aedyn's diaper using the recliner portion of her sofa. His head tilted to one side and he became unresponsive, she said. She called her daughter for help and her daughter called 911. Her son was in the shower at the time.

John Grant, an attorney appointed for Flythe by the Public Defender's Office, noted that Aedyn had moved up in diaper sizes under her care. She took him to the hospital every time he had a serious medical issue, proof that she was a diligent foster mom who cared for the child, he said.

• • •

Flythe's family is not the only one rocked by Aedyn's death.

Last week, Brynn and Artha Agminalis, the boy's biological parents, were arrested on charges of child neglect.

They admitted to child welfare investigators they did not know how to care for the boy and asked that he be moved into the foster system. The charges arise from the care and feeding of their son before he was placed in state custody in September.

The couple, who moved to Florida from Kentucky when Aedyn was about 10 months old, had decided they weren't ready to be parents. Through an adoption agency, they had chosen Colleen Kochanek and her wife, Stephanie Norris, to adopt Aedyn.

Kochanek and Norris have been together for 17 years and married in 2006. Kochanek works as a lawyer and consultant. Norris is a civil engineer. They own a home in North Carolina and have a 4-year-old daughter, Riley, adopted at birth.

The couple knew Aedyn had medical issues but were never allowed to see the boy's records even as they pushed to get him placed with them prior to a final adoption hearing.

Unbeknownst to them, the state was also pursuing placement of Aedyn with his paternal grandparents, a move that was opposed by the boy's biological parents, a DCF report shows.

From the moment their adoption agency told them they had been matched with a child, Kochanek gazed every day at the one photograph she had of Aedyn.

The boy is standing holding onto a playpen and gazing intently at the camera. Chubby legs stick out of a onesie. A teddy bear and other toys lie on the floor behind him.

Riley, Kochanek's daughter, was excited at the idea of a little brother. She sorted through her toys to find ones she could give to Aedyn.

"People will think it's odd that we never met him yet we're sad about him," Kochanek said. "I can't explain that but we already felt like he was ours. Having his picture felt like that, like a promise."

Contact Christopher O'Donnell at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.

     
 
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