Myerstown couple charged after toddler suffocated by weighted mattress on crib

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Justin Dwyer

MYERSTOWN, LEBANON COUNTY, Pa.–Criminal charges were filed Tuesday against a Lebanon County couple following the April 2017 death of their 2-year-old son.

Justin J. Dwyer, 29, and Courtney Stash, 28, are each charged with involuntary manslaughter, conspiracy aggravated assault, simple assault, unlawful restraint of a minor and recklessly endangering another person.

Officers were dispatched to  the 100 block of Strack Drive in Myerstown on the morning of April 25 for a reported cardiac arrest involving a toddler. When first responders arrived at the home, they discovered the 2-year-old boy had died, according to the criminal complaint.

Courtney Stash

Investigators learned the boy had been found unresponsive and not breathing around 7:30 a.m. in his crib by Stash, his mother.

Stash told police  when she found her son, he was standing/leaning and slumped over a top railing of his crib, according to court documents. Stash explained she immediately grabbed the boy and took him into the living room where she performed CPR on him on the living room couch.

A few days later, police were told by a relative that Stash and Dwyer routinely put a mattress with “Toy Story” sheets over the top of the toddler’s crib to keep the boy from climbing out. Stash and Dwyer then put bags of ice melt/driveway salt on top of the mattress and secured the mattress in place with bungee cords, according to the criminal complaint.  When authorities initially interviewed Stash and Dwyer, neither reported that any items had ever been used to cover or contain the toddler in his crib.

Police searched their home and found a mattress with “Toy Story” sheets on top of the couple’s bed. Investigators also found two 50 pound bags of ice melt/driveway salt and bungee cords in the master bedroom closet. An inspection of the boys crib showed indentation/scuff marks on the crib rails consistent with the size and shape of the hooks from the bungee cords.

On the morning of the boy’s death,  Stash and Dwyer were overheard talking about how the mattress was “holding the boy down on his neck so that he could not get out,” according to the criminal complaint.

An autopsy showed the boy’s death was caused by “asphyxia due to entrapment between crib and overlying twin mattress secured by bungee cording.”

The couple was arraigned Wednesday and taken to Lebanon County Correctional Facility in lieu of $250,000 bail.