Baby of family living in car dies; Ceres father arrested, but not charged

1:05 AM, Aug 7, 2013   |    comments
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HICKMAN, CA - The Stanislaus County District Attorney's Office will not be charging a 41-year-old Ceres father at this time after his 8-month-old daughter died after being found unresponsive in the family car.

D.A. spokesperson Carol Shipley said based on the evidence investigators have, Dale Rutherford will not face child endangerment charges.

He was released from Stanislaus County Jail Tuesday evening.

Rutherford, four children, ages 4, 3, 2, and 8 months and their mother had been sleeping in their Mercury Grand Marquis for the last two months, according to the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department. The family lived at Modesto mobile home park before the started living in their car.

The mother called for help a little after 9 a.m. Sunday when her baby daughter couldn't be revived. First responders picked up the child on the 500 block of Hickman Road and transported her to Oak Valley Hospital. She was pronounced dead there.

Investigating sheriff's personnel were told by the mother that Rutherford had been abusive toward her and the children during their ordeal.

Investigators said they found evidence to support the mother's claims and Rutherford was arrested at that time on suspicion of domestic violence and child abuse.

The cause of death for the baby hasn't been released.

Neighbors at the mobile home park who knew Rutherford said they didn't believe he was abusive to his children.

"I could not see the bad side of him because his kids loved him with all their heart," next door neighbor Johnny Sanchez. "I mean, if he was to go somewhere his kids would follow him everywhere he went."

But there's disagreement over why Rutherford and his wife left their mobile home park to live in their car for almost a month.

"The manager sent people down to cause a lot of ruckus with this couple," neighbor Sylvetta Stacey said. "And they were pretty much in fear for their lives. That's why they left and were living in their car."

Park manager Niki Gardiner gives a very different account of what happened.

"They had a home right here and the home that they had, they tore it up. They abandoned it," Gardiner said. "They paid their rent and four days later they chose to leave and live in a car by the side of the road in Hickman and use meth."

Even friends of Rutherford acknowledge he's had a hard life, including trouble with the law, but believe he was trying to patch his life back together. 

Gardiner said she will always feel sadness over what happened.

"It's a tragedy. It's one of the hardest things I'm gonna have to live with," she said.

Hickman is about 14 miles east of Modesto.

Det. Cory Brown would like to hear from anyone with additional information on this case. Citizens can also leave tips anonymously at Crime Stoppers at (209) 521-4636 or email tips at Stanislaus Area Crime Stoppers, or text them to CRIMES (274637) by typing "Tip704" plus the message and be eligible for a cash reward.


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