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      Boy dies on his first birthday, mother's boyfriend charged in connection with death

      A Cullman County boy died on his first birthday earlier this week, and his mother's boyfriend has been charged in connection with his death.

      The investigation is ongoing.

      Below is a news release from the Cullman County Sheriff's Office.

      According to Sheriff Mike Rainey, on Tuesday, March 11th 2014 around 11:00 p.m. the Cullman County Sheriff's Office was notified by Cullman Regional Medical Center of a reported bathtub drowning of a 1 year old child, Hoss Wayne Benham. The initial medical review indicated that the child's body had several external injuries that were suspicious in nature. Deputy Jed Thomas was dispatched to the hospital and by the time he arrived the child had been pronounce deceased. Upon conducting an initial assessment from the medical staff and viewing the child 's injuries Deputy Thomas notified dispatch of the situation and a team of investigators responded to the hospital and to 17750 US Hwy 31 N. at Monk's Trailer Park where the drowning was alleged to have occurred.Cullman Co. District Attorney, Wilson Blaylock, was notified of the situation. He then gave authorization for an autopsy to be conducted at the Huntsville Department of Forensic Science on Thursday, March 13th. A preliminary report of the cause of death has not been released at this time. Lead investigators, Bethany Shaddrix and Capt. Jon Montgomery have conducted initial interviews with the child's mother; Crystal Ballenger, age 23, and her boyfriend, Jeffery Brown, age 37. Based upon those interviews and other physical evidence uncovered by investigators during the course of this investigation, Jeffrey Brown has been charged with Aggravated Child Abuse, a Class B felony. Bond has been set at $30,000.00 cash.

      This case is still very active and ongoing at this time and we are not at liberty to discuss details or specifics that could jeopardize our investigation. I want to commend all the officers and investigators for their hard work and dedication in uncovering the facts surrounding this investigation. The Cullman Co. Sheriff's Office is working closely with the District Attorney's Office and the Dept. of Human Resources. We anticipate making further progress in this investigation in the near future. Child Abuse cases are difficult to work and especially those of which result in the death of a child. As Sheriff, I am saddened by the death of this little boy and I want the community to know that we are praying for this child and those who loved him.