- Cullman, Alabama

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March 17, 2014

Mother charged with child abuse in connection with infant son’s death

CULLMAN — A Cullman mother has been charged in connection with her one-year-old child’s death. The infant victim’s body was sent for an autopsy and the official cause of death has not yet been determined.

Crystal Vialonda Ballenger, 23, and her boyfriend, Jeffery Hugh Brown, 37, were both arrested on charges of aggravated child abuse in connection to Ballenger’s son, Hoss Wayne Benham’s death on his birthday, Tuesday, March 11. The couple brought Benham to Cullman Regional Medical Center around 11 p.m. last Tuesday night where he was pronounced dead by medical officials. Brown was arrested late Thursday night and Ballenger was arrested Friday night.

Cullman County investigator Captain Jon Montgomery said the initial report by the mother and boyfriend was the child accidentally drowned in the bathtub. Montgomery said that claim has not been ruled out yet, but once the preliminary report is released with the cause of death, investigators will be able to move forward with the case.

“We’re interviewing people and waiting for more paperwork to come in, but the case is very active,” Montgomery said. “It is unclear if the child was already dead before getting to the hospital. I couldn’t give you a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on that at this time. The child had excessive bruising all over his body. The child’s head, neck, stomach and back showed excessive abuse. Some of it was yellowish like it was healing, and a lot of it was fresh. The baby’s skull was also fractured.”

Montgomery and investigator Bethany Shaddrix are lead investigators on the case.

Both Brown and Ballenger are being held at the Cullman County Detention Center each on a $30,000 bond.

According to the Department of Human Resources 852 total child abuse cases were reported in Cullman County from January of 2013 to the end of January in 2014.

% Lauren Estes can be reached at or 256-734-2131, ext. 137. 

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