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By Tristan 

Man charged in boy's drowning can't go to funeral


HELENA — A man charged with negligent homicide in his son's drowning last week cannot travel to Washington state to attend the 3-year-old's funeral, a Lewis and Clark County judge has ruled.

Justice of the Peace Michael Swingley made his ruling after a hearing Wednesday in which County Attorney Leo Gallagher argued Leo Eugene Mathis, 26, had no ties to Helena other than the criminal charges filed after his son, Leo Eugene Mathis Jr., drowned in Prickly Pear Creek in East Helena on June 22. Mathis had just moved to the area a week earlier.

Gallagher also pointed out that Mathis was jailed after pleading guilty to harassing and threatening to kill the boy's mother and the state of Washington put a no-contact order in effect until April 2012.

Jenny Kaleczyc, a public defender representing Mathis, said her client is not a flight risk.

"He understands the seriousness of the charges," she said.

The defense also argued that the boy's mother wants Mathis at the funeral.

"Let this man who is mourning the tragic loss of his son lay his son to rest," Kaleczyc said.

Swingley declined the request to modify Mathis' bond conditions to allow him to travel out of state, noting his serious alcohol problem and history of not being compliant with court orders, the Independent Record reported.

"The defense is relying on the compassion of the court and pleading for the release of the defendant to attend a funeral for his son, the victim of the crime the defendant is charged with," Swingley wrote. "The court's responsibility is to attempt to balance the needs of the community, the prosecution and the rights of the deceased child to have the defendant brought to trial and restrained from leaving the state until the matter is resolved."

Court records say Mathis and his son were walking near the creek in East Helena when Mathis received a telephone call, was briefly distracted and his son walked toward a berm constructed to hold back floodwaters.

Mathis told investigators he saw his son standing in slack water in a brushy area and decided to carry him across the main current to the park on the other side of the creek. Mathis lost his footing and dropped his son, who was swept downstream. Court records note the creek was "visibly raging."

Prosecutors say Mathis' blood-alcohol content was 0.091 percent.


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