INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — A 30-year-old Vero Beach man is awaiting a court appearance after deputies said he shoved a baby wipe deep down into his daughter’s throat two years ago, causing her death. The wipe was pushed so far down that doctors had to use a medical scope to find it, reports from the 2021 case show.
“It would have been impossible for (the baby) to (ingest) the baby wipe because babies at that age have a tongue thrust response that would have pushed it out, rather than (ingesting) it. The baby’s peripheral nervous system would be so underdeveloped at that age, therefore she would not have been physically able to place the baby wipe into her own mouth,” a doctor said in the arrest report.
“Only an adult could have forced a wipe not only into (the baby’s) mouth, but all the way down her throat.”
Indian River County Sheriff Eric Flowers on Monday announced the arrest of the girl’s father, Joseph T. Napier, during a news conference held at the agency. Napier was charged last week with aggravated manslaughter of a child, following a two-year investigation.
“Based on all of the evidence gathered, and in consultation with medical physicians, it was determined that the only person present at the time of the incident that could have placed the wipe that deep in the child’s throat was Joseph Napier,” sheriff’s officials said in a statement.
Napier, who was held Wednesday at the Indian River County Jail on a $750,000 bond, initially told deputies he found the two-month-old choking, reports show.
The baby was brought to the hospital, where doctors intubated the two-month-old and used forceps to remove the wipe, reports show. The wipe – twisted and balled up – looked like “a large rag” after doctors removed it from the infant’s throat, a paramedic said in the report.
Doctors looked at the dimensions of the baby wipe, along with the size of the girl’s mouth, and determined someone thrust it down the baby’s airway.
The infant died from her injuries on May 29, 2021, sheriff’s officials said.
Indian River County sheriff’s deputies responded to a call for service on May 28, 2021, at a Vero Beach residence. The caller, Napier, told dispatchers that his infant daughter started choking 10 minutes prior and was turning blue, reports show.
A deputy went in the home and found Napier doing chest compressions on the girl who was unresponsive. The deputy tried to revive the girl while taking her to responding paramedics on scene.
Law enforcement officers and paramedics looked inside the infant’s mouth and used forceps to try and locate an object, but did not see any items, reports show.
The girl was rushed to Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital, where doctors used a GlideScope flexible airway video tool to find the wipe trapped in the infant’s pharynx. Doctors used forceps to remove the wipe.
The girl had to be revived several times at the hospital, reports show. The baby was then flown to Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando, where doctors pronounced her dead, deputies said.
An autopsy report showed the infant died from asphyxia as a result of the foreign object blocking her airway. Napier and his two children – the two-month-old along with an 18-month-old child – were the only people home when the incident took place, reports show.
A doctor said the 18-month-old would not have been able to force the wipe down the infant’s throat.
“It would have taken several pushes to get a wipe down (the baby’s) throat, and it would have been nearly impossible for an 18-month-old to accomplish this,” the doctor said in the report.
It was not immediately known if the 18-month-old was removed from the home.
Deputies arrested Napier and booked him into the county jail. Napier has an arraignment at 8:45 a.m. Oct. 19, court records show.
“While this investigation involved the tragic loss of life, we are hoping that this arrest can give some closure to the friends and family,” sheriff’s officials said.
Photos by Joshua Kodis