HUDSONVILLE, Mich. — A severely autistic teen who drowned in his family’s backyard swimming pool was left unsupervised outside with his arms bound on the late March day he was discovered face down in the water, court records show.
The March 28 death of 16-year-old Samuel Koets launched an investigation that uncovered “deplorable’’ conditions in the teen’s basement bedroom at the family home on Port Sheldon Street near 40th Avenue in Ottawa County’s Georgetown Township, court records show.
The teen’s father, 50-year-old Timothy Alan Koets, was arraigned Friday, Oct. 25 on multiple charges stemming from his son’s death. The most serious charge, involuntary manslaughter, is a 15-year felony.
The manslaughter charge accuses Koets of “leaving child unattended in backyard with access to swimming pool and/or failing to timely respond to child in middle of outdoor swimming pool.’’
Koets was also arraigned on three counts of child abuse, including second-degree child abuse and fourth-degree child abuse.
The charge of second-degree child abuse says Koets “did cause serious physical harm and/or likely to cause serious physical harm to a child by leaving Samuel Koets unattended in backyard of residence with significant dangers present.’’
He is also charged with second-degree child abuse committed in the presence of another child, a 10-year felony. A count of fourth-degree child abuse accuses Koets of leaving his son in an unsafe bedroom and "improperly binding child's hands and leaving child unattended.''
Fourth-degree child abuse is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail or probation for up to five years.
Koets, an associate professor at Grand Rapids Community College, was arrested by Ottawa County deputies at the school on Thursday.
During Friday’s arraignment, Koets told Hudsonville District Court Judge Judy Mulder he wasn’t a flight risk.
“I have a stable job, I've lived at my home for 20 years and I have a family,'' Koets said. "So, I'm not going anywhere. I'm not a risk at all, so I don't want you to think I'm going to run."
Bond was set at $25,000 – 10 percent. His next court appearance has been set for Nov. 5th.
Samuel Koets had severe autism, was non-verbal and had a history of aggression towards himself and others, according to records in Ottawa County Family Court.
He had the functioning level of 13 to 17-months, court records show.
A search of his basement bedroom revealed “multiple large spots of smeared fecal matter,’’ court records show. Authorities found a mattress on the floor without sheets “and dirty diapers were found throughout the room.’’
The day Samuel Koets died, his father left him outside, unsupervised with his arms bound, according to court records.
Timothy Koets "admitted to leaving Sam outside unsupervised with his arms bound'' at approximately 1 p.m. on March 28, court records show. He went to work while his wife, 51-year-old Michelle Koets, was sleeping in the home. She worked the previous night, third shift, court records show.
"Timothy Koets woke up Michelle Koets prior to leaving to indicate Sam was outside,'' court records show. "Michelle Koets acknowledges that she remained sleeping while Sam was outside.''
Timothy Koets texted his 13-year-old daughter about 4:10 p.m. as she was returning home from school, stating: "would you make sure freak is okay? Is mom still asleep?''
She notified her father at 4:11 p.m. that Samuel was in the pool and sent a picture "of Sam in the pool standing,'' court records show. Two minutes later, she sent a photo of the boy in the pool in chest-deep water.
He directed his daughter to "pull him out by the hand,'' court records show.
At 4:27 p.m., Timothy Koets states: "Is he out?'' and inquires again at 4:44 p.m., asking his daughter "what's going on?''
"Subsequent examinations of the phone show no attempt by Mr. Koets to contact 911, though his son, who he knew had a diminished capacity, was standing in chest deep water which had ice flowing in it,'' Ottawa County Detective David Bytwerk testified during a felony warrant hearing.
"Nor did he appear to have made any other attempts to have other persons come assist his child other than texting a thirteen-year-old child to try to get the child out of the pool or to make arrangements to get him out of the pool,'' Bytwerk said, according to a court transcript.
During the investigation, another family member told police she saw Samuel Koets in the pool at 3:20 p.m. "Law enforcement concluded that Sam was left unsupervised in the pool for nearly an hour.''
Samuel Koets "was found with his arms bound to his body,'' officials wrote in court records. "Ice was noted to be in the pool due to the cold weather. The pool had no fence surrounding it and had over four feet of water in it.''
Family members had partially pulled him out of the water by the time help arrived. Sheriff’s deputies and paramedics tried to revive the boy; he was pronounced dead at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
An autopsy showed the cause of death to be drowning.
During the police investigation, Michelle Koets "acknowledged that Sam wanders off from time to time and there is well-documented history of that in sheriff's department reports,'' Bytwerk testified during the warrant request.
Timothy Koets said he got his son off the school bus after 1 p.m. and put him on the back deck unattended "to spin in circles.''
"He described that Sam likes to spin in circles for hours at a time and he put him on the back deck unattended to spin in circles,'' Bytwerk testified. "At the same point he acknowledges that Sam's arms were wrapped around his body in a wrap which keeps his arms restrained.''
The boy was "regularly left outside for up to five hours at a time, however, if it's bad weather, he's only left out alone for two to three hours unattended,'' Bytwerk said, recalling an interview with the defendant's oldest daughter.
HISTORY OF POLICE INVOLVEMENT:
The Ottawa County Sheriff's Department were no strangers to the Koets home on Port Sheldon Street or to reports of the boy running around the neighborhood.
In June of 2011, deputies were called when Samuel was reported running naked at a nearby playground. He was 8 at the time.
He was also found playing in the dirt in a neighbor's yard, and has been found playing outside in the nude on several other occasions, court records show.
In September of 2014, Samuel was "found shirtless, shoeless and unsupervised at Rush Creek Park.'' In July of 2015, he was found unsupervised at another park "pulling the hair of other children,'' court records show.
In December of 2016, Samuel was found "knocking on doors one-quarter mile from his home after having jumped the fence.''
In January of 2017, he was found in a yard about a mile from home, court records show. Police found Samuel in the woods in June of 2017.
A daughter of Timothy Koets told police "there have been times in which she's observed her brother unsupervised by her parents,'' court records show.
The investigation that followed Samuel's death led police to his downstairs bedroom, which Bytwerk described as a room "with no windows, concrete walls, no carpet, and furnishings only encapsulating a bare mattress with what appeared to be fecal matter smeared on it.''
"In addition, there was a lock to that door which locked from the outside locking persons inside.
"In speaking with the Koets family, it was determined that Sam Koets has been being kept in this room for eight years as a bedroom with statements that he would break things if he were kept in another bedroom,'' Bytwerk said.
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