Las Vegas couple face murder charge in death of special-needs son

Updated May 23, 2017 - 3:25 pm

The adoptive parents of a 21-year-old man with multiple medical problems had no explanation for the lethal levels of medication in his system found after what they described as a serious accident in the shower, Las Vegas police said.

Metropolitan Police Department officers called Yolanda and Ross Strauss’ decision not to seek medical help for the burns their son Brandon suffered in the shower “contrary to the actions of a reasonable person,” according to an arrest report obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Now they both stand accused of murder and abuse in his death.

The report documents inconsistencies between the Strausses’ accounts of Brandon’s death and the conclusions of the Clark County coroner’s office. Metro accuses the parents of administering lethal levels of antihistamines and toxic amounts of antipsychotics.

Brandon, who had been adopted as an infant, had numerous health issues and required his parents’ assistance with routine activities such as bathing and dressing, took daily medication for seizures and was diagnosed with Down syndrome and autism. He didn’t have a history of taking medication on his own, “nor does he have the capacity” to do so, the report said.

Brandon was found unresponsive in his room late on Feb. 20, according to the report. Police were initially told he had suffered a seizure, fallen in the shower and burned himself on Feb. 19.

But Ross Strauss, 64, later told police he was washing his son in the shower the morning of Feb. 17 or Feb. 18. Brandon suffered a seizure and fell, hitting the faucet and inadvertently turning up the hot water, which burned his body, he said.

Treated in-house

His parents decided to treat his burns at home rather than taking him to the emergency room. They later told Metro they thought they could provide him comparable treatment, the report said.

The report indicates that Yolanda Strauss, 63, noticed that the burns were bleeding while they changed his dressings. She said the wounds looked “weird” and “angry” as the days progressed. She told police she and her husband had agreed to take their son to a medical professional Feb. 21 — the day after they found him dead.

They also told police she had a medical condition that hindered her ability to care for Brandon and his brother, who also required significant medical care and supervision.

The Strausses partly attributed their delay in seeking medical care to her inability to stay at home and care for Brandon’s brother. An adult daycare the family had used before was available, Metro countered.

At one point, the report said, Ross Strauss told police he thought Brandon’s burns “were bad but not that bad.”

The coroner’s office thought otherwise, the report indicates. The office ruled April 20 that Brandon died from sepsis caused by his burns, compounded by the high amounts of medication. The coroner ruled his death a homicide.

Inconsistent with accident

An autopsy revealed that the burns “did not appear to match an accidental pattern” consistent with that from a bath or shower, the report said. Detectives agreed, saying that Ross Strauss’ account of Brandon’s fall would likely have caused “a more erratic splash pattern” than the “clear, marked” burns found on his legs, buttocks and genital area.

Brandon did “not possess the motor skills necessary” to burn himself with water, the report indicated, noting he had second- or third-degree burns on 10 to 12 percent of his body.

The next court appearance for the Strausses, who were arrested May 2 and remain in the Clark County Detention Center, is scheduled for June 21. Their attorney, Joshua Tomcheck, was reached Monday night and had no comment.

Contact Mike Shoro at Follow @mike_shoro on Twitter.

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