Toddler who died of probable opiate overdose identified

Mother arrested in James Vessell's death
Posted at 6:28 PM, Jan 27, 2017

Family members have identified a 2-year-old boy who died of a probably opiate overdose.

James Vessell, Jr. was found unresponsive by his mother at around 5:15 p.m. at a home on 41st Street, just north of Center Street.

Despite lifesaving efforts, the boy died on the scene. His mother was arrested for neglect causing death.

The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office said it is still waiting for the results of the autopsy, but ruled it a probable opiate overdose because of evidence police recovered at the scene.

James Hightower saw the aftermath unfold right next door.

"We came out, all you hear 'why you do that, why you do that?'” Hightower said.

Hightower said he saw a man run out of the home.

"Police came, everybody came,” Hightower said. "I’m mad, who would do that to a baby though?” 

This is the fifth toddler death the M.E.’s Office has investigated within the past year for probable prescription drug overdoses.

"That’s a pretty striking number considering in the last 10 years, the other years had 0, 1, or maybe 2 cases in the entire 12 month period,” Forensic Technical Director Sarah Schreiber said.

Over that stretch, Schreiber said more toddlers have died from drug overdoses than car accidents and gun-related crime combine. She said that’s due to accessibility.

“The drugs are out there, the drugs are being prescribed,” Schreiber said.

Schreiber suggests parents keep all of their medications locked up.

"They should be kept out of sight,” she said.

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