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Man accused of harming 3-month-old son

ROGERS CITY — A Presque Isle County jury will be tasked with deciding who may have caused severe head trauma to a 3-month-old child.

Caleb Pommerenke, 24, was charged with two counts of child abuse in the third and fourth degree, accused of inflicting harm on his son in August 2018. He denies the accusations.

Before Judge Aaron Gauthier of the 53rd Circuit Court in Rogers City, the child’s mother testified that she had left her two children in the care of her mother and Pommerenke while she spent several weeks with friends and making a trip downstate. During that time, care of the 3-month-old was shared by his grandmother and his father.

According to the mother’s testimony, the child was delivered to Pommerenke at Pommerenke’s father’s residence in Moltke Township on Aug. 16. A photograph entered into evidence, taken the previous day, showed the child in apparently good health.

The child’s mother testified that she communicated with Pommerenke on Aug. 17, when he reported noticing swelling around the child’s eyes. Pommerenke later told police that he thought the swelling was because of sickness that had been passed around his family.

Heated text conversations between the two parents and the child’s grandmother led to the boy’s mother returning home to her mother’s house in the middle of the night Aug. 18. Picking the child up from Pommerenke the next day, the mother testified, she was alarmed by bruising around the child’s eyes and took him to the emergency room at MidMichican Medical Center-Alpena, where doctors evaluated him and sent him home.

The next morning, the mother returned the child to the ER, where a CT scan revealed bleeding on the brain, confirmed by further testing at Covenant HealthCare in Saginaw.

The CT scan in Alpena the morning of Aug. 20 led doctors to contact Michigan Children’s Protective Services and to report the test’s findings to law enforcement as a possible case of child abuse, the child’s mother testified.

Several weeks later, the child had a seizure that sent him to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids. The child was found to have bleeding inside his head that made it swell well beyond its normal size. He underwent surgery, including the insertion of two tubes into his head to drain away blood and fluid from around his brain.

Additional testing was done to rule out an underlying disease or disorder. Dr. N. Debra Simms, a child abuse pediatrics specialist at DeVos, testified that the internal bleeding had to have happened as a result of trauma.

“Little bitty babies don’t bruise,” she said, explaining that, before children become mobile and while they are completely dependent on adults, they are unable to take actions that lead to injuries with the severity necessary to cause bleeding inside the head.

The everyday activities associated with care of an infant also do not cause bleeding inside a head, according to Simms. Once other possibilities were ruled out by testing, it only remained that the internal bleeding and bruised eyes were caused by trauma.

“Someone hurt this child,” she attested.

Simms was not been provided with any evidence of an accidental event that could explain the injury, such as a car crash or a piece of furniture falling on the child.

The test results provided by the Alpena and Saginaw hospitals indicated to Simms that the trauma had occurred an estimated three days before the test conducted on Aug. 20, putting it within the time period that the child was in Pommerenke’s custody.

Defense attorney James Gilbert clarified with Simms that the time period was an estimation, and not conclusive.

In a recording of an interview with Rogers City police that was played for the jury on Thursday, Pommerenke indicated that he didn’t know how the child’s head injury occurred, offering possible explanations of a shampoo bottle that had been dropped on the boy’s head several weeks earlier or the child banging his head too violently against an adult’s collarbone while being burped, although Pommerenke said in the recorded police interview that he burped the child held horizontally in front of his chest.

At one point during the day’s testimony, Gauthier ordered the bailiff to remove a woman in the galley who had taken off her jacket to reveal a slogan on a T-shirt prejudicial to one party in the trial. The jury was polled and found to not have been prejudiced by the brief incident, but Gauthier issued a stern warning to the woman, indicating that further action with the appearance of trying to influence the jury could result in her being held in contempt of court.

The trial was adjourned until Friday morning, when Presque Isle County Prosecutor Ken Radzibon will finish his arguments and Gilbert will begin the case for the defense.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.