Tarrant grand jury no-bills Rhoudes in child’s death

By Bob Buckel | Published Wednesday, January 9, 2013

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A 47-year-old Paradise man was “no-billed” Dec. 13 by a Tarrant County grand jury on charges that his negligence led to the drowning death of his 5-year-old daughter last July.

Michael Ray Rhoudes was arrested Aug. 7 and charged with criminally negligent endangerment or abandonment in connection with the July 11 death of his daughter, Pipper Sasnett, at Eagle Mountain Lake. The drowning took place at the City of Azle’s Shady Grove Park, on the west side of the lake.

Rhoudes originally posted $5,000 bond and was released, but he was jailed after violating the conditions of his bond. Rhoudes’ girlfriend, Crystal Gail Millican, of Hico, was arrested on the same charges in August and posted bond. She was also no-billed by the grand jury in December.

Rhoudes had custody of his five children at the time of the accident. He told the Messenger this week that he is now working to regain custody of his other four children, who were removed from his care by Child Protective Services (CPS) after the drowning.

Rhoudes’ children were swimming with a group of people at the Azle park when Pipper disappeared about 6 p.m. Wednesday, July 11. The girl was discovered by another swimmer who bumped her underwater, and carried her to the beach where CPR was begun. She was unresponsive by the time medics arrived.

She was taken to Cook Children’s Medical Center by helicopter, where she was pronounced dead at the emergency room at 7 p.m.

Tarrant Regional Water District officers and the Azle Police Department investigated the incident. Witnesses told investigators the girl was not wearing a life jacket and not being supervised. They also said Rhoudes and Millican did not alert others about the missing child.

Rhoudes disputed those accounts and said his daughter stepped into a deep hole in the swimming area, became stuck and was unable to surface. Born prematurely, Pipper suffered from cerebral palsy and her limbs were weaker than those of most children her age.

The grand jury’s action means the criminal case will not go forward at this time, although it does not eliminate the possibility of future prosecution if some additional evidence came to light.

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