18-year-old arrested in two-year-old child's death

SUNNYSIDE, Wash. - Details are still emerging as authorities investigate a strange sequence of events surrounding the death of a 2-year-old Sunnyside boy.

Benjamin Miron died of internal injuries caused by blows to his torso, Yakima County Coroner Jack Hawkins said following an autopsy Thursday.

"His injuries are consist-ent with being struck very hard," possibly punched, Hawkins said, adding that the wounds were highly unlikely to have been caused by roughhousing with other children.

Police arrested 18-year-old Juan Balverde Lopez, who authorities said was dating the boy’s mother. He faces a possible murder charge.

Hawkins said Lopez was apparently babysitting the boy and his siblings while their mother was at Toppenish Community Hospital.

He said Lopez told authorities he tried to awaken the boy Wednesday morning but found him unresponsive. He then took the boy and his siblings to the hospital, but apparently wasn’t aware the child was dead, Hawkins said.

It’s not clear whether they went to the hospital seeking emergency treatment for the boy or to visit the mother, he said.

Sunnyside police spokeswoman Charlotte Hinderlider said detectives believe the boy had been fatally beaten the night before at the family’s home in Sunnyside on Decatur Avenue.

Police later arrested Lopez at the home.

He is expected to be taken to the Yakima County jail today. Police said they’re seeking a charge of second-degree murder.

The dead boy’s siblings are in state care.

In Sunnyside, neighbors on Decatur Avenue described the boy’s family as friendly, but private.

None could recall any previous trouble at the family’s tidy blue home trimmed with roses and a white picket fence.

"I would have never expected this," said Ezekiel Canales, 19, who lives across the street.

Neighbors described a large, extended family with several young children living at the home. Neighbors said the family waved at them, though no one seemed to know their names. They had occasional family gatherings, such as barbecues, but no large parties.

A young man who appeared to be in his late teens answered the door at the boy’s home Thursday morning, but politely declined to discuss the incident.

Wednesday afternoon, police officers filled the streets in front of the house.

Canales said the neighborhood had been much worse before the city bulldozed a couple of condemned homes, one of them frequented by suspected gang members, about three years ago.

These days, many neighbors partner on outdoor yard projects and volunteer to watch one another’s homes, though there isn’t an official neighborhood watch program.

Francisco Velasco, 57, lives next door to the dead boy’s home. He also called the house, as well as the neighborhood, pretty quiet.

"For me, it’s pretty nice," he said.

He frequently said hello to his neighbors, but never got to know them in his four years next door.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.