The family of a 22-month-old boy whose suspicious death is being investigated by Sonora police took their quest for justice to the streets on Thursday.
About 40 family members and friends of the late Koltyn Sparks, of Waterford, gathered at Courthouse Square in downtown Sonora to raise awareness about the lack of answers they’ve received since he died on Jan. 15 after being taken to the hospital.
“I want people to see his face,” said Tracy Gulcynski, Koltyn’s paternal grandmother, while holding a poster featuring photos of the boy. “I know what we’ve lost. He’s not just a name. He’s not just a number on a piece of paper.”
The family has waited 114 days for a final report on the cause of death from the Stanislaus County Coroner, which Gulcynski said they were originally told would take only 90 days.
Gulcynski, of Oakdale, said she was told Thursday morning that the report is expected to be done within 48 hours, but the family is prepared to keep applying pressure for as long as necessary.
“We have a very large circle of family and friends and could do this everyday if we need to,” she said. “We’re determined, and we don’t give up. We’re fighters.”
Koltyn was initially admitted to Adventist Health Sonora in January for flu systems but was found to have severe brain and internal organ damage. He was airlifted to University of California Davis Children’s Hospital in the early morning of Jan. 15 and died that afternoon.
An 87-page report from UC Davis showed Koltyn was severely dehydrated and had been deprived of oxygen, Gulcynski told The Union Democrat in an interview on Wednesday.
Sonora Police Chief Turu VanderWiel said in an interview with The Union Democrat on Wednesday that his department was contacted to investigate Koltyn’s death because the boy had been staying with a sitter on Shepherd Street in Sonora while his mother worked.
Koltyn was taken to Adventist Health by the sitter.
VanderWiel said on Wednesday that the case is currently considered a suspicious death as opposed to a homicide. He also said conflicting information from UC Davis and the coroner’s office has stymied progress on the investigation.
Gulcynski said the family had been keeping quiet about Koltyn’s death because they didn’t want to do anything that could hinder the investigation, but it’s been so long without any major developments that they decided to go public with their story about two weeks ago.
“We were trying to do what we thought we were expected to do, but we just got frustrated and it was time to make some noise,” Gulcynski said. “Now that we’re here, I feel like this is what we should have done all along.”
More than a dozen people were lined up on the sidewalk along Washington Street shouting “justice for Koltyn” and waving signs bearing the same message. Horns blared consistently throughout the morning from cars and trucks showing support while driving past the protest.
Gulcynski said many people were asking them what they were talking about because they had not heard about the boy’s death. VanderWiel told The Union Democrat he did not release information that a child had died to protect the integrity of the investigation.
“A famous person dies and it’s on the news within hours, but our baby dies in this tight-knit little community and nobody knows about it,” she said. “We are his voice.”
Rachel Sparks, Koltyn’s maternal grandmother, was also holding a sign at the protest on Thursday on behalf of her daughter and the boy’s mother, Nicole Sparks, whom she said had to work because of how many days she had taken off after her son’s death.
Sparks, of Waterford, said they are planning to open a scholarship next year in Koltyn’s name at Waterford High School, where he frequently went with his family to watch sports games.
“I’m hoping we’ll find out the truth,” she said. “His mom was an awesome mom, he was everything to us, and there was nothing we wouldn’t do for him.”
One of Koltyn’s great-aunts, Heidi Buckhanan, of Modesto, was also at the protest and said she’s concerned about how the length of time since Koltyn’s death could affect the investigation.
“There are too many unanswered questions, and we know it takes time, but you could lose a lot of things in 114 days,” she said.
Angie Valentine, another of Koltyn’s great-aunts who lives in Sonora, was protesting on Thursday in hopes that the family will soon get answers and people will become more aware of what happened.
“Nobody even knows there is an investigation,” she said. “This is the first time Koltyn’s voice is being heard.”
Koltyn’s father, Josh Blackwood, was also at the protest wearing a T-shirt with the words “Sleep with the angels lil man” underneath a picture of his son riding a red tricycle.
Blackwood, of Oakdale, said he’s also worried about how long it’s taking just to get a cause of death from the coroner’s office and hoped the protest would raise awareness about his family’s plight.
“He loved his family, he loved his motorcycles and he was just a charming, handsome little boy who was always happy,” he said. “His mommy and daddy were his favorite people.”
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.