ALTA VISTA – Parents charged with murder in the death of their infant son in August had a history of drug use, according to court records.
Chickasaw County sheriff’s deputies Wednesday arrested Zachary Paul Koehn, 28, and Cheyanne Renae Harris, 20, for first-degree murder and child endangerment causing death. They remain in jail pending trial.
Authorities said their son, 4-month-old Sterling, was found dead in a powered swing seat in a bedroom at their Alta Vista apartment Aug. 30.
Last week, Department of Correctional Services reports filed in connection with the arrests indicated Koehn, an over-the-road trucker who had just started a new job, was in substance abuse treatment. He had last used methamphetamine about two months ago, records state.
Harris, who had moved in with a relative in Riceville after the death, was also in treatment, and her last use of meth was two or three weeks before her arrest, Correctional Services records state. She also told officials she was being treated for post traumatic stress disorder.
Neither parent has prior criminal convictions, although Koehn was arrested for theft for allegedly bypassing a Riceville water meter after water service was cut off to his mobile home in 2016. The charge was dismissed when he agreed to pay restitution and court costs, but in August prosecutors sought a contempt hearing because he hadn’t made payments in months.
Records show authorities attempting to serve notice of the contempt allegation had trouble locating him, checking addresses in Alta Vista and Charles City.
Deputies said it was Koehn who called 911 at about 12:57 p.m. Aug. 30 to report Sterling had died. He told police and medics Harris had fed the baby at 9 a.m., and the child was fine, but when he checked around 11 or 11:30 a.m., he discovered the infant was dead.
An autopsy, which found Sterling underweight at 7 pounds, uncovered maggots on the child’s skin and clothes, which indicated he hadn’t been washed, changed or removed from the seat in more than a week. The medical examiner ruled his death was a homicide by failure to provide critical care.
Another older child was living in the home at the time of Sterling’s death, court records indicate.
The couple had been living in an apartment on Walnut Street; it’s a one-story brick building with four units and a shared laundry area in the hallway.
Neighbors in the building said Koehn and Harris had lived in Apt. 7 for less than a year, and, like others in the building, they kept to themselves.
“It’s is a terrible, terrible tragedy that this happened,” said Kevin Trumpold, who lived across the hall. He said he can’t understand people not feeding or caring for children.
He only saw the couple and the children when they were coming and going; the baby was always being carried in a child safety seat to and from their vehicle. And he rarely saw the children playing outside, which he thought was odd. He doesn’t remember the couple having any visitors.
Trumpold said he works “goofy” hours, but he noticed the TV in Apt. 7 was always on, usually playing movies. He said he occasionally heard crying coming from the apartment, but he never knew if it was a child or the TV.