- Cullman, Alabama

March 14, 2014

(UPDATED) One-year-old dies on birthday, mother’s boyfriend arrested

By Lauren Estes
The Cullman Times

CULLMAN — By Lauren Estes


A Cullman man has been charged with aggravated child abuse in connection with the death of his girlfriend’s 1-year-old son.

The child, Hoss Wayne Benham, died Tuesday, which was the boy’s birthday, after the mother and her boyfriend took the child to Cullman Regional Medical Center where he was pronounced dead. The mother, Crystal Ballenger, 23, and her boyfriend, Jeffery Brown, 37, told hospital officials the child accidentally drowned in a bathtub in the residence they share at Monk’s Trailer Park on U.S. Highway 31 North, according to information from the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office.

Brown, 37, was officially charged with aggravated child abuse Thursday evening following an investigation by the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office. He is being held on a $30,000 bond at the Cullman County Detention Center.

According to a news release from the sheriff’s office, the investigation into the death of Hoss Wayne Benham is continuing. The body of the child was sent from CRMC to the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences in Huntsville for an autopsy. The official cause of death will be issued at a later date.

Authorities reported that CRMC medical staff found unspecified external injuries on the infant.  

According to the sheriff’s office news release, Deputy Jed Thomas was dispatched to the hospital and by the time he arrived the child had been pronounced dead.

Investigators were called to the residence where the mother and boyfriend said the alleged drowning occurred after the child was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Cullman County District Attorney Wilson Blaylock gave authorization for an autopsy to be conducted.

Lead investigators for the sheriff’s office, Bethany Shaddrix and Capt. Jon Montgomery, have conducted interviews with Ballenger. The charge against Brown is a Class B felony.

According to Chief Deputy Max Bartlett, since 2009, 43 cases of child abuse have been reported in Cullman County. In 2009 there were 12 cases, six in 2010, five in 2011, 13 in 2012, six in 2013, and three to-date in 2014.  

According to Cullman Caring for Kids Director Javon Daniel, hundreds of child abuse cases were reported to the Department of Human Resources in Cullman County in 2013 and 2014.

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