Man charged for kids' deaths in Lincoln Co. cave-in appears in court

Credit: Lincoln Co. Sheriff's Office

Man charged for kids' deaths in Lincoln Co. cave-in appears in court


by JOE MARUSAK / The Charlotte Observer

Posted on September 19, 2013 at 2:51 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 11:16 AM

LINCOLTON, N.C. -- A Stanley father charged in the deaths of his daughter and her cousin faced a judge Friday morning.

Authorities on Thursday charged Jordan Keely Arwood with involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of his 6-year-old daughter and 7-year-old nephew in an April wall collapse.

In court Friday, Arwood told the judge he would hire his own attorney. Arwood was told by the judge that he could face jail time for the involuntary manslaughter charge.

After a lengthy investigation, sheriff’s detectives determined that Jordan Keely Arwood, 31, of 5858 Cedarbrook Court, showed culpable negligence in the deaths of James Levi Caldwell, 7, and Chloe Jade Arwood, 6, Lincoln County Sheriff David Carpenter said.

Arwood turned himself in at the sheriff’s office, Carpenter said. Arwood was arrested and placed in the Harven A. Crouse Detention Center under a $15,000 secured bond.

On April 7, the children were playing in a large dirt pit while Arwood was working at the site, using a backhoe to dig and move dirt, Carpenter said.

One wall of the pit collapsed, trapping the children underneath. It took rescuers more than 12 hours to locate the bodies of the children, the sheriff said.

The Lincoln County Building and Grounds Division had issued no building permits to Arwood, authorities said in April.

Arwood had several surveillance cameras around his property, one of which filmed the excavation site, sheriff’s Detective Lt. Tim Johnson has said. But Arwood told authorities he didn't know where the video footage of the actual cave-in is, Johnson said.

Arwood was working on an excavation about 24 feet deep and 20 feet by 24 feet wide when it collapsed.

Neighbors said Arwood had been building a three-story house, with the first two floors underground.

But Carpenter said in April that authorities were investigating whether the hole might have had a different purpose, such as a bunker.

Arwood has a lengthy criminal history, including convictions between 2000 and 2009 for felony possession with intent to sell or distribute marijuana, resisting a public officer, driving while license revoked and driving while impaired.

Constructing without a permit normally doesn't typically carry a stiff penalty, Carpenter said in April. Usually, the violator is just asked to obtain a permit. But that may be different in this case given the children's deaths, the sheriff said.

Johnson told the Observer in August that building a case was challenging because the office must show "culpable negligence."

“It's very difficult,” he said. “We've been working on it. We'll do something just as quick as we can get it done."

On Thursday, Carpenter issued this statement:

“As our investigation continues in this case, we are obligated by law to protect the rights of the two innocent victims that lost their lives on that day,” Carpenter said in a statement Thursday. “This has been a very tragic event, and we continue to pray for all persons involved with this as our investigation is turned over to the courts. At the request of our District Attorney, no other statements will be made at this time.”
Arwood's next court appearance is scheduled for October 10.

The Charlotte Observer