Anna E. Karber was sentenced to one year of probation Thursday morning after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor count of child endangering for creating a substantial risk to the safety of her 2-year-old son, LeRoy J. Toppins, who went missing from his Staunton-Grove Road home the evening of April 3, 2015 and was found dead a day later in a nearby pond.
During the plea and sentencing hearing in Fayette County Common Pleas Court, the state dismissed the third-degree felony involuntary manslaughter count against Karber as part of a plea agreement. Fayette County Prosecutor Jess Weade said that although the state respects the decision of the grand jury in finding probable cause for the involuntary manslaughter charge, it would be difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
“We would be required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the death of LeRoy Toppins was the proximate result of some action or lack of action on the part of (Karver),” said Weade. “Based upon the evidence available for use by the state, the state believes that child endangering is the charge that could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Before accepting Karber’s plea, Judge Steven Beathard asked for Karber’s account of what happened the evening of April 3, 2015 when her son went missing. “I want to know exactly what happened,” said Beathard.
Karber explained that LeRoy had been asleep on the floor while his father, Dustin Toppins, and Dustin’s father were outside in the detached garage, and Karber and Dustin’s mother were inside the house planning their Easter celebration.
A dog came into the house and awakened LeRoy, who then began to cry and asked for his father. “So Dustin’s mom hollered out the door and asked if it was fine and he said yes,” said Karber. (Dustin’s mother) let him out in the garage and he was out in the garage playing out there and helping his dad and his grandpa. The next minute we know, he was outside in the driveway by the house playing in ever puddle. I was standing at the window and I hollered for LeRoy to come back down and get his butt back in the garage.”
Karber said that LeRoy came back and went past the garage where she couldn’t see him. “I still stood there in case he turned around and came back, and he never did,” she said. “I stood there and waited and honestly…I smoked a cigarette. Once I finished my cigarette, I sat down and started talking to Dustin’s mom about the Easter stuff. I thought he was in the garage with his dad.”
Judge Beathard then interjected, “But where was he while you were smoking that cigarette?”
Karber responded that LeRoy was back in the yard. LeRoy’s brother came home between 5 and 5:30 p.m. and asked Karber if he could go play with his nephew at his nephew’s house, and Karber granted him permission.
“He came back because they weren’t home,” said Karber. “I said, ‘Well just go play with your brother….he’s out in the garage. He came back and said that daddy said he’s (LeRoy) not there. I said, ‘Well he must be out in the puddles again.’”
When the family discovered LeRoy was not in the yard, Karber said she and Dustin’s mother ran to the landlord’s house to see if LeRoy was there.
“That’s when bubby came up missing,” she said. “We looked and looked and looked and looked.”
When LeRoy went missing on April 3 from his home, it prompted a search that included hundreds of volunteers before he was found dead the next day in a pond adjacent to the stone quarry on Staunton-Sugar Grove Road. “We believe the child wandered away, got too close to the water and fell in,” Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth said on April 4, 2015.
The pond, which is located approximately 400 feet from the Toppins’s home, was about three feet deep at the time of the drowning. LeRoy’s body was found at around 6:40 p.m. April 4 on the bottom of the pond about three feet out from the shore.
Several hundred people searched for the child beginning the night of April 3 when he was reported missing by his parents, Karber and Dustin Toppins, at around 6 p.m.
Results from LeRoy’s autopsy confirmed that drowning was the cause of his death and that there were no signs of foul play, according to the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office. The autopsy results and the investigative findings of the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office were submitted to the prosecutor’s office for review before it went to the grand jury. In August, the grand jury met and came back with the two charges.
During Thursday’s hearing, Karber’s attorney, Brent Marshall, said, “All you can chalk this up to is a horrible, tragic accident.” Marshall told Judge Beathard that after spending many hours with his client, she knew LeRoy’s habits very well and that wandering away was completely out of character. “This is a child who didn’t like to leave his mother’s side,” he said. “Everyone of us as parents are very blessed that something like this hasn’t happened to us.”
Beathard agreed to dismiss the involuntary manslaughter charge and sentenced Karber to a year of probation with a suspended 180-day jail sentence for the first-degree misdemeanor child endangering.
During the sentencing, Beathard told Karber: “The punishment that this court could impose pales in comparison to the punishment that you have to deal with and your family deals with each and every day.”
Reach Ryan Carter at 740-313-0352 or on Twitter @rywica.