June 25, 2008— -- Alberto Rios likely had no intention of killing his 7-month-old son, but that may not clear him of responsibility in the child's grisly death.
The Washington state father of a baby who died over the weekend after wandering into a backyard fire pit as he slept nearby was arrested Tuesday and is being held on investigation of first-degree manslaughter.
Rios was booked into the King County Jail and held without bail at 6 p.m. Tuesday on suspicion of first-degree manslaughter, according to the jail's Web site.
Although police have refused to identify Rios by name because he is only being held in connection with the case, Cathy Schrock, a police spokeswoman in Federal Way, Wash., confirmed that the department arrested Rios late Tuesday. King County prosecutors will ultimately decide whether to bring charges against him.
Police confirmed the 4:45 p.m. arrest of a 37-year-old Hispanic suspect who told police that he fell asleep late Saturday night by a backyard fire with his baby son and later found the child severely burned in the fire pit.
King County authorities responded to a call about an injured child shortly after midnight Sunday morning. When they arrived, the father, identified by a jail record as Alberto Rios, was holding his 7-month-old son. The child, already dead, had suffered severe burns to his entire body, Schrock told ABC News Tuesday afternoon shortly before Rios' arrest.
"The preliminary investigation disclosed that the boy fell into a backyard fire pit," Schrock said.
The father told investigators that he had fallen asleep with the infant on a bench next to a fire pit. When he woke up and realized his son was gone, he went inside to look for him. The father then went back outside and found the boy's charred body in the pit, Schrock said.
The investigation into the death is ongoing. In addition to Rios and the baby's mother — identified only as a 39-year-old Hispanic woman — authorities had been interviewing neighbors to create a timeline for the 24 hours before they responded They also executed a search warrant and drew blood to determine whether Rios was drunk or on drugs when the death occurred. The results of the tests are not yet available. The King County medical examiner, who was expected to release the child's official cause of death late Tuesday, has not yet made a determination.
Karen Lee, a spokeswoman for the Washington state Department of Social and Health Sciences, told ABC News that the baby's 4-year-old sister is safe in the custody of her mother. Lee said the mother has been "very cooperative" with officials from child protective services. The department has not had problems with the Rios family in the past.
Child protective services will re-evaluate its plan for the baby's sibling after the medical examiner announces a cause of death and the prosecutor's office makes its decision about formal charges.
Robert Rios, who identified himself in an interview with ABC News Seattle affiliate KOMO as the baby's older brother and son of Alberto Rios, was at a loss for words. "I don't know what I can say," he said outside the home where the death took place earlier this week. "It's hard to talk about, you know?"
Many members of the Rios family and friends have come forward, saying they are shocked by the child's death and maintain that it must have been a tragic accident involving a happy baby and his father.
"How can this happen? It just really stuns you," neighbor Shirley Squires told KOMO, who acknowledged that it is a question that authorities must answer. "I guess when there's an accident like that, then you always question judgment."