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Father of toddler who died at Dyess testifies

Oct. 18, 2013 - 06:04PM   |  
Tamryn Klapheke
Tamryn Klapheke (Family photo)
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ABILENE, TEXAS — The father of a toddler who died at her family’s home on Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, during his overseas deployment in August 2012 had received an Article 15 related to child neglect.

Former Senior Airman Thomas Klapheke testified Oct. 17 in the court-martial of a fellow airman accused of failing to report the neglect of 22-month-old Tamryn Klapheke, who died from malnutrition and dehydration.

Senior Airman Christopher Perez is charged with dereliction of duty, child endangerment and adultery. The girl’s mother, Tiffany Klapheke, will stand trial in January. Perez is accused of having an affair with the woman while Thomas Klapheke was deployed.

Perez has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Thomas Klapheke tearfully testified he did not believe Tamryn and the couple’s two other children — ages 3 and 6 months — were being neglected. He said he’d seen the girls once over Skype on his cellphone in the two months leading up to Tamryn’s death.

“I didn’t notice anything,” he said. “I don’t feel like I neglected my children.”

Thomas Klapheke’s testimony was the first public mention of the Article 15. The Klaphekes had been investigated multiple times by the Dyess Family Advocacy Program and Child Protective Services in the two years leading up to Tamryn’s death. CPS had closed each of its investigations after concluding the neglect allegations were unfounded.

Thomas Klapheke also testified he’d met Perez just once before his deployment. Perez had visited the Klaphekes’ base home, he said. Thomas Klapheke has since divorced his wife and left the Air Force, according to testimony.

Two pediatricians who testified about the condition of Tamryn’s two surviving sisters described the girls as dehydrated and malnourished. They had second-degree chemical burns from exposure to bodily waste. The surviving girls are now with family.

A first responder also took the stand on behalf of the prosecution. Master Sgt. Matthew Jones of the 7th Security Forces Squadron said the stench inside the Klapheke home was so overpowering that he had to throw his tainted uniform away afterward — despite three washings.

The defense, which began presenting evidence Oct. 18, has argued that Tiffany Klapheke, and not Perez, was responsible for her children.

Military judge Col. Donald Eller will decide the case.

— Christopher Collins reports for Abilene Reporter-News. Air Force Times staff writer Kristin Davis contributed.

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