KPD: No indication of foul play in toddler's death, but incident treated as possible crime due to protocol

Rain Smith • Jul 22, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Tuesday’s death of a Kingsport toddler found in a rock quarry is still being investigated as a possible crime by the Kingsport Police Department.

Deputy Chief David Quillin said that does not mean there is any indication of foul play, rather it’s typical protocol for all unattended deaths or those occurring under unusual circumstances.

The toddler, Nathan Whiteaker, was found in the Vulcan Materials Co. rock quarry on Deneen Lane about 8:10 p.m. Rescue personnel began searching for the child around 4:30 p.m., after his mother, Amber Whiteaker, reported Nathan missing from a friend’s residence at 147 Beartown Road.

“We want to proceed very methodically as we go forward, because we don’t want to find ourselves in a position a month down the road and look back and wish we’d done this or wish we’d done that,” Quillin said.

The quarry where the child was found is about three-quarters of a mile from the residence where he was reported missing. Police say he would have had to travel through dense woods to reach the site.

A dilapidated barbed wire fence, falling apart and missing strands, is all that stands at the quarry’s edge. Quillin noted the fence is not sufficient for keeping people out, and there are no signs of foul play at the scene.

“There is nothing at this time that indicates that,” he said. “I thought about it all last night; how a two-year-old can traverse almost three-quarters of a mile in that kind of terrain and end up where he did. We hope the investigation will reveal that as we move forward and find out more as we go.”

Central Dispatch received a call of the missing child at 4:21 p.m. According to the mother, she, a friend and an 8-year-old girl were outside with Nathan just before he disappeared. They said they went inside for just a moment and when they came back out he was nowhere to be seen.

When police responded to the Beartown Road residence, they began their search by looking through the home.

“So many times the child is located right there in the home or just outside the home, and the parents have simply overlooked the child,” Quillin said. “When you take a toddler one or two years old, I’ve found them in laundry baskets asleep, under sheets, or on the couch under a comforter where the parents simply didn’t look. So we want to make sure, before we launch a massive search outside the home, that the child is not inside.”

Though the child was not found, police did find mushrooms growing in one of the rooms.

Everston Webb, 41, of the residence, was arrested and charged with four offenses: manufacturing mushrooms, maintaining a dwelling where narcotics are used, sold or stored, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of schedule 1 drugs for resale.

“We didn’t go there with the intention of arresting someone for growing mushrooms,” Quillin said. “It just fell into our lap.”

He added that the department’s thoughts and prayers are with the parents and family.

“It was a tough day. In 25 years I’ve had a lot of good days in this job, and I’ve had a handful of bad days. Yesterday was definitely one of those bad days. That’s not the way that those things are supposed to end.”

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