State troopers arrested two people on charges of child endangerment after they found three children and one teenager in the back of a box truck near Jackson, Tenn. on Wednesday, the Tenn. Department of Safety and Homeland Security (DSHS) said today.
Trooper Baron Cooper, assigned to the Tennessee Highway Patrol's (THP) Interdiction Plus Unit, stopped a U-Haul truck for an alleged lane violation near mile marker 76. According to DSHS, three adults inside the cab told the trooper that they were traveling from Texas to Ohio. They gave him permission to search the vehicle.
After hearing sounds from the back of the truck, Cooper asked his partner, Trooper Dwayne Stanford, to assist him. Cooper found four children, the department said. Their ages are 4, 5, 9, and 13. The troopers said that the children were lying on foam bedding surrounded by property belonging to the driver and the children's mother. Stanford removed the children and placed them in his vehicle.
Joseph Howarth Jr., 47, and the children's mother, Tressa J. Morris, 35, were both charged with two counts of child endangerment and two counts of felony child endangerment. Jose Cecena Manuel, 22, was wanted for a probation violation in Fort Worth, Texas and was held for extradition. All three are from Euless, Texas.
The Madison County district attorney's office approved the criminal charges against the adults and they were booked into the Madison County Criminal Justice Complex. The Department of Children's Services (DCS) took custody of the four children. Jackson's high temperature was 44 degrees on Wednesday. DSHS said the case remains under investigation.
"A case like this emphasizes our 'all crimes' approach to traffic stops and illustrates how troopers are trained to look 'beyond the ticket.' Trooper Cooper’s instincts to search the vehicle possibly saved these children’s lives. He is to be commended on his actions," said THP Colonel Tracy Trott.
Howarth and Morris are each being held in jail in lieu of $100,000 bond, according to ABC 7 Eyewitness News.