Father pleads guilty to autistic son’s drowning
A former Grand Rapids Community College associate professor pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter charges in the drowning death of his 16-year-old autistic son.
Timothy Koets, 51, faces a minimum of 19 months in prison after his December 8, 2020, court appearance involving the death of his son.
Koets admitted that he was negligent for leaving his son, Sam, unsupervised on the back deck with access to the swimming pool on March 28, 2019.
According to testimony, Sam was severely autistic, non-verbal, and functioned at the level of a 13 to 17-month-old child.
At the time of his death, the boy was wearing a restraining device which kept his arms wrapped up, a device the family used to protect Sam from himself. Family members said Sam could free himself if he wanted.
On the day of the incident, Koets said he alerted his sleeping wife that he was going to teach a class, and left his son on the back deck, where the boy liked to spin in circles for hours.
Koets said that in retrospect he should have made sure his wife was awake when he left. The mother, Michelle Koets, was sleeping that afternoon because she worked a third shift.
Later that afternoon, Koets’ 13-yearold daughter sent him a text message photo of her brother in the icy swimming pool.
Her father texted her to get him out. She texted him that he’s in the middle of the pool.
Koets said to yell at him to come back. She texted that she thinks he’s stuck and sent another photo, showing her brother in chest-deep water. Koets asked if the older sister was home and told her to get her mother.
A little later, he texted his daughter asking if Sam was out of the pool. This texting went on for about a half hour.
Family members eventually got Sam partially out of the water before rescuers took over.
According to Ottawa County Sheriff’s Detective David Bytwerk, “[S]ubsequent examinations of the phone show no attempts by Mr. Koets to contact 911 though his son, who he knew had a diminished capacity, was standing in chest deep water which had ice flowing in it. Nor did he appear to have made any other attempts to have other persons come assist his child other than texting a 13-year-old child to try to get the child out of the pool or to make arrangements to get him out of the pool.”
Koets pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, fourth-degree child abuse and obtaining a controlled substance by fraud.
The drug-related charge involved Sam’s prescription drug Ritalin, which Koets admitted was filled after Sam’s death.
This fall, Koets taught nine classes at Grand Rapid Community College, including computer programming, computer science, database design and development and web-application programming, the school said in a statement. A member of the Computer Information Systems Department, he was placed on administrative leave with pay Oct. 28, 2019.
Defense attorney David Kallman said he will ask the judge to sentence Koets to 19 months in prison, the low end of the guidelines.
He is scheduled for sentencing January 18, 2021.
“They were under a lot of stress in their family. It led to some unfortunate choices,” Kallman said.
“My client didn’t set out to have his son drown.'
Photo credit: Grand Rapids, MI Wood tv 8