A judge deemed Thursday that an eastern Lincoln County man would not serve prison time in the April death of his daughter and nephew.
Judge Ali Paksoy determined there was not enough probable cause to convict Jordan Keely Arwood, 32, of involuntary manslaughter.
Arwood was charged with two counts of the felony offense, one for each child victim, in September.
The children died after a large wall of dirt collapsed on them as they played inside a massive hole on Arwood’s Stanley property.
He had been digging the hole as a basement for a future rammed earth home, he told detectives.
The specific type of home, similar to an adobe, incorporates natural building materials for what’s believed to be an overall stronger structure.
Family of Arwood and the deceased children, Chloe Arwood, 6, and James Caldwell, 7, were in court Thursday for the hearing.
According to Kenneth Caldwell, the children’s grandfather and Arwood’s stepfather, it was his duty to show up for the legal event and represent the young victims, whom he looks forward to seeing in Heaven one day.
“I’m here because Chloe and James can’t be,” he said. “They need someone here for them.”
Caldwell and his wife, Nancy Arwood Caldwell, also served as James’s legal guardian for several years, taking him in to their Cedarbrook Court home when he was just eight months old, Nancy Caldwell said.
She explained tearfully for the courtroom how she, too, witnessed the terrible spring tragedy, most of which she’s blocked from her memory as a safety mechanism, she said.
The victims’ grandmother does, however, remember certain parts of the event — the policemen telling her the children were dead, identifying the bodies after rescue crews pulled them from the pit hours later and the initial screams at the site.
“I heard two screams,” she said, “and saw dirt being buried on Jordan. Next thing I know, it wasn’t Jordan being buried.”
Nancy Caldwell said she had been sitting on a 4-wheeler at the time of the incident while Arwood operated a backhoe and moved dirt.
The 4-wheeler was attached to a wooden stake, by way of a chain, in the hole’s deepest part, she said, and her job was to keep it tightly pulled during the construction work.
While a fence once surrounded the site, Nancy Caldwell noted the structure had been removed and later replaced with layers of tires and sandbags for safety and support.
A mesh fence also partially bordered the sloped hole, she said, along with several pieces of two-by-fours and wooden planks of other varying dimensions.
Nothing had been erected to keep individuals from going in and out of the pit, she said.
To Nancy Caldwell’s knowledge, she had never witnessed the children playing in the hole before the accident and believed they were not allowed inside it.
However, head prosecutor Micah Sanderson showed the grieving grandmother pictures previously taken of Chloe and James in and around the hole.
At the time, however, the site was much smaller in depth and width.
The victims’ grandmother proceeded to tell the court Thursday that as soon as Arwood witnessed the dirt wall collapse, he took immediate action to save the children.
According to testimony from Lt. Johnson, head of the Sheriff’s Major Crimes Unit, hundreds of rescue workers from across the county and beyond responded to the site the evening of the accident, working to remove the loads of dirt and rescue the children alive. Within two short hours, the mission changed, with a focus on simply recovering the two bodies.
Chloe’s body was recovered first at 5:35 a.m. the following morning, nearly 12 hours after the wall collapsed, Johnson said.
Crews excavated the boy’s body around 7 a.m.
Following an autopsy on each victim, a medical examiner determined the children’s exact cause of death to be mechanical asphyxiation — suffocation, Johnson said.
Since the incident, the victims’ siblings have not been the same.
“It’s been a pretty big impact,” Kenneth Caldwell said.
He noted how James’s twin sister Jasmine and older brother Josiah have both had trouble coping with the boy’s loss in particular.
“Josiah doesn’t have anyone to pull pranks on him,” Kenneth Caldwell said.
Because James and his grandfather often spent time together building wooden structures and trinkets, he crafted a cane in the children’s memory a week after the accident.
The object contains three wooden knots or bumps — one each marking their deaths and a third in recognition of a daughter who died at birth, he said.
In addition, a wooden bench James once crafted with both his grandparents still sits inside the room where lived at the Caldwells.
The little boy was buried with one of his favorite objects his grandpa made him — a wooden airship, Kenneth Caldwell said.
As for Chloe, her grandfather described her as “a precious, smart little kid” who has been greatly missed by her sister Bella.
While Arwood and Chloe’s mother were divorced, the girl spent every other week with her dad.
Because Arwood lived on a lot adjacent to his mother and stepfather, Chloe also frequented her grandparents home.