Father charged in arson, child's death appears in court

Vaughn Brock

A London man charged in the death of his child during a trailer fire pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.

Vaughn Ashley Brock II, 28, of Reams Lane in London, sidestepped his scheduled jury trial for May 3 by entering a guilty plea to second-degree manslaughter in Laurel Circuit Court on Thursday morning. He is recommended to serve 10 years in prison and is set for sentencing on May 24. 

Brock was initially charged with murder and first-degree arson in the March 30, 2019 death of his 23-month-old son following a fire at the family's mobile home early that morning. The fire broke out and neighbors reported seeing Brock flee the scene. When firefighters entered the home, they found the child inside a washing machine in the residence, deceased.

After fleeing the scene, Brock remained on the lam for four days before being taken into custody on April 3. His stories of the incident did not match the evidence found during the investigation - Brock initially said the child set the fire because he was playing with matches in the living room of the home. Brock said he had smoked marijuana and fell asleep and awoke to the flames inside the home.

But the arson investigation showed the fire broke out in a different spot. The fact that the child was found inside the washing machine further conflicted the stories that Brock told investigators.

Brock was caring for the child while its mother was at work.

In May 2019, Brock was indicted for murder and first-degree arson. With Thursday's plea agreement, the arson charge is dismissed.

Brock has been held in the Laurel County Detention Center since his arrest on April 3, 2019. Had he gone to trial with the initial charges of murder, he could have faced between 20 to 50 years in prison and 5 to 10 years for the arson charge, if found guilty.

The motion to amend the murder charge to manslaughter was filed by Commonwealth's Attorney Jackie Steele on April 29, prior to Brock entering the guilty plea.

Steele said that the investigation into the fire and child's death was conducted by the Kentucky State Police Arson Division and the federal ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) Division and determined that the fire originated in the area that Brock described. He added that no accelerants were found, which eliminated an intentional arson. 

As for the child's death, Steele said that was another area that came under close scrutiny.

"There was a pile of laundry a few feet high by the washer that the child could have climbed up and gotten into the washing machine," he explained. "I was in the trailer with the two arson investigators and we even sent off five or six items to the crime lab. We could not prove that the fire or the child's death was intentional. The child's cause of death was smoke inhalation. Had there not been that pile of laundry by the washer, I would have argued that there was no way the child of that age could have gotten into the washer by himself."

The fact that Brock admitted that he had been using drugs and passed out, however, allowed for "wanton conduct," which does fall under the state's guidelines for second-degree manslaughter charge.

"That was the highest charge I could go for and they came to us (Commonwealth Attorneys) with an offer to plea to second-degree manslaughter so that's what we settled on," he said. "Am I happy with it? No. But I couldn't prove intentional arson or intentional murder so we settled for the maximum penalty for second-degree manslaughter."

njohnson@sentinel-echo.com

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