Child dies, with no explanation

Curtis Bashaw Jr., a seemingly healthy 9-year-old, collapses and goes into respiratory and cardiac arrest.

Published May 4, 2007

BROOKSVILLE -- For years, Jennifer Britton looked forward to Thursday. It was the day she and her husband, Michael Britton, planned to leave for a belated honeymoon.

The two married Aug. 20, 2005, but just recently scraped together the money to celebrate the nuptials. Four days, three nights on a cruise from Fort Lauderdale to the Bahamas. Paradise.

But when Thursday morning came, Jennifer Britton didn't want to wake up.

Waking up meant facing the tragedy of the night before when her only child, 9-year-old son Curtis Bashaw Jr., unexpectedly collapsed and then, minutes later, died at Brooksville Regional Hospital.

"It was supposed to be my honeymoon and now my baby's dead," she said in an emotional interview Thursday afternoon.

The toughest part, she said, is not knowing what happened to a child she described as healthy and active in youth sports.

"We don't know. We don't know," the 29-year-old told friends who called and asked the one question she wants answered.

The Hernando County Sheriff's Office and the state Department of Children and Families are investigating, as is the normal procedure for an unexplained death, a sheriff's spokeswoman said. But as of Thursday evening, they could offer little definitive information. A preliminary autopsy showed no signs of trauma, the spokeswoman said.

According to family members and investigators, here's what they do know:

Curtis, a third-grader at Brooksville Elementary School, was getting ready for bed Wednesday night at his mother's house in Brooksville. It was just before 9 p.m. and Curtis was arguing with his mother and stepfather, Michael Britton, about the early bedtime.

Curtis turned to walk toward his bedroom and that's when he fell, or collapsed. When his stepfather went to pick him up and put him in bed, Curtis' eyes rolled back in his head and he began to gasp for air.

His parents called 911. At 9:04 p.m., he was taken to the hospital. At 9:24 p.m., he was pronounced dead.

Investigators say he was hyperventilating, vomiting and losing consciousness. At the hospital, he went into respiratory arrest and then cardiac arrest.

"We are all in shock," said Jessica Bashaw, who is married to Curtis Bashaw Sr., the 9-year-old's father. "I treated him like he was one of my own. He was more than a stepson to me."

Bashaw said the two families shared time with Curtis. His mother and stepmother described him as an active child who played baseball and soccer and loved watching Star Wars.

"Especially the spaceships," Bashaw said. "He loved the spaceships."

He also liked animals, his mother said. Gorillas were his favorite, though he was mesmerized by dolphins after a recent trip to SeaWorld.

"We were going to go to Discovery Cove," Jennifer Britton said. "He wanted to swim with the dolphins."

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.