A young boy was struck and killed by a vehicle in Fort Mitchell, Ala., on Sunday, in what authorities say was an accident linked to a soldier’s attempt at roadside discipline.
Sergeant First Class Bryan Starr, 35, has been arrested on a reckless murder charge in connection with the incident, according to Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor.
Starr was driving with his longtime girlfriend’s five-year-old son, Austin Birdseye, when he pulled over to punish the boy for “unruly” behaviour on Sunday night, investigators told local station WRBL.
The boy had been “acting out” at home so Starr had taken him out for a drive, the sheriff told CBS News.
Austin was still misbehaving so Starr kicked him out of the car in a church parking lot around 8 p.m. on Highway 165, Taylor said.
He allegedly lost track of the boy in the dark and the rain, and the child wandered onto the highway.
“He has no idea where he is or how to get home,” Taylor told local broadcaster WPDE. “Who thinks to tell a five-year-old to get out of a car because they’re being potentially loud?”
The boy was struck by a car on the highway and critically wounded, police say. He was rushed to hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Starr did not know what happened to the boy until he noticed several cars stopped on the road, investigators said.
The boy’s mother, 33-year-old Christina Birdseye, was not in the vehicle at the time.
Taylor says Starr was Birdseye’s live-in boyfriend, and the two had been together for several years. An image on her Facebook page shows Starr crouching by a fire with two young boys.
Starr, who was born in Marengo, Ill., has been in the military for 17 years and is currently assigned to Fort Benning, the base said in a statement.
“Fort Benning is cooperating with local law enforcement officials,” a spokesperson for the base said.
“We are deeply saddened by this tragic event and extend our heartfelt condolences to the family of the deceased.”
The driver of the vehicle that struck the boy is not facing charges.
The crash is under investigation.
“I definitely think Mr. Starr made a bad decision,” Taylor said.
“I can understand trying to discipline a child. I don’t understand putting a child out in the rain and losing sight of the child. That’s what is just mind-boggling to me. I don’t know what he was thinking.”