SEBRING — A man accused of injuring his 4-year-old stepson in the stomach told police that he and the boy’s mother hesitated to take the child to a hospital because of past experiences with the Florida Department of Children and Family Services, according to warrant affidavit.
The parents waited more than 10 hours to take the child to the hospital, although the boy had complained all day about his stomach hurting, the affidavit said.
Police said the boy recovered and has been released from All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, while as of Friday afternoon the mother and the stepfather remained in the Highlands County jail. The boy originally went to Florida Hospital.
Benjamin Joshua Herrera, 28, 2036 Steiner Ave., Sebring, was arrested by the Sebring Police Department and charged with aggravated child abuse and child neglect with great bodily harm. Kimberly Dawn Hernandez, 23, 2036 Steiner Ave., Sebring, was arrested by the Sebring Police Department and charged with child neglect with great bodily harm.
When police initially questioned Herrera, he said that he accidentally injured the child during a football game, the affidavit said.
But the injuries were inconsistent with that happening, the report said.
“The pattern of bruises on his abdomen is typical of high-force blunt trauma and may have been caused by being punched or kicked in the abdomen,” the affidavit said.
Sebring police initially became aware of the situation after Florida Hospital called a complaint into the state’s abuse hotline and with the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office.
When Highlands County deputies initially responded, Herrera was initially uncooperative and he locked himself into his car with a 6-month-old child, the affidavit said.
“It took over half an hour for deputies to convince Herrera to open the door and cooperate with authorities,” the report said.
Herrera later told a Sebring police detective that he and boy played football. When the boy ran toward him, Herrera tackled the boy “like a normal football player would,” he told police.
During that event, the stepfather told police that he apparently accidentally hit the boy in the stomach and that the boy “laid on the ground for 30 seconds holding his stomach and whining a little bit,” the affidavit said. “Herrera said he usually tells (the boy) to suck it up because he’s a boy.”
Herrera told police he did not realize he had seriously injured his stepson.
Around 8 p.m. that evening, Herrera noticed that the boy’s stomach and chest began swelling, the affidavit said, adding that he told police he waited another hour to tell Hernandez they needed to take the child to the hospital.
When police investigated the father’s account of the events, they went to the area of the backyard where the supposed football game took place, the affidavit said.
“The area where Herrera stated the incident occurred had weeds with flowers on them and the weeds did not appear disturbed or trampled from someone running around the yard,” the affidavit said.
Hernandez told investigators she was aware that Herrera and her son went outside to play football and that when they returned Herrera told her he accidentally hit the boy “a little too hard in the stomach,” the affidavit said.
Although the boy complained numerous times that his stomach hurt, Hernandez said she did not think it was a serious problem.
Hernandez told police that she felt that Herrera was sometimes too hard on the boy and was too rough when they played football.
The boy “is four and is not an NFL football player,” the mother said to police, according to the affidavit.