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4-year-old boy dies after nearly drowning

The Citrus native was left alone near a hotel pool in Bradenton, authorities say.

By JIM ROSS and MIKE BRASSFIELD

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 9, 2000


CRYSTAL RIVER -- A 4-year-old boy who was born and raised in Citrus County died Wednesday, two days after he nearly drowned in a hotel swimming pool in the Bradenton area, authorities said.

Jonathan Lee Whitaker was born at Citrus Memorial Hospital and lived in west Citrus until April, when he moved with his mother to Arkansas, according to the boy's paternal grandmother, Susie Whitaker of Crystal River.

The boy, his mother and his mother's boyfriend were in Bradenton on Monday, authorities said. The reason for the visit was not known Friday.

Manatee County sheriff's officials said Jonathan was with his mother's boyfriend, Robert Thomas, beside a pool at the Budget Inn, 8120 N Tamiami Trail. Jonathan was playing inside the gated pool area but wasn't in the pool when Thomas left him alone and returned to their motel room.

Thomas told the boy not to get in the water, said Manatee County sheriff's spokesman Dave Bristow. Thomas came back 3 to 5 minutes later and couldn't find Jonathan. Then he looked in the water and saw the child at the bottom of the pool, deputies said.

Thomas got the boy out of the water and started CPR. The boy was flown by helicopter to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.

The case remains under investigation, the sheriff's spokesman said. Mrs. Whitaker, the grandmother, said the boy nearly drowned about 9 p.m. Monday.

Jonathan and his parents lived with Mrs. Whitaker and her husband the first year of his life.

"He was a wonderful little boy. He was a beautiful little fellow. He should have been being taken care of. And he wasn't," Mrs. Whitaker said Friday. "We didn't even know they were back in the state of Florida."

Jonathan's father, Jon, lives in Homosassa with his new wife, Christine. The boy's mother, Kimberly Gardner, moved with Jonathan to Arkansas because she had family there.

"He was very happy-go-lucky. He loved little cars. He loved to play outside in the sun. He was afraid of water," the boy's grandmother said.

A viewing is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. Monday at Wilder-Fountains Funeral Home, 4890 S Suncoast Blvd. (U.S. 19), Homosassa Springs. The funeral will be Tuesday at St. Benedict's Catholic Church, 455 S Suncoast Blvd., Crystal River. The tentative starting time is 10 a.m.

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