Police Call Drowning a Tragic Accident

PEORIA — When Vanessa Gardner temporarily became a foster mother for a girl and her siblings more than a dozen years ago, she couldn’t have anticipated this day. That girl would have a baby and a life that couldn’t accommodate a child – and Gardner would become a legal guardian again. Earl M. Woods III even called Gardner “Mom” before his new life was cut short Sunday. “It was just an accident,” Gardner said one day after the child drowned in a rainwater-filled backyard pool at 506 E. Frye Ave. “Appreciate what you’ve got because you never know when it’s going to leave you.” The 2 1/2-year-old came to live with Gardner before his first birthday and was home with her husband, Jason Gardner, and some older juvenile relatives Sunday afternoon. At 3:45 p.m., the boy was found floating in the pool. He was pronounced dead at 4:30 p.m. in the emergency room at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center. Preliminary autopsy results Monday indicated the boy died from drowning, according to Peoria County Coroner Johnna Ingersoll. Police said the incident is not suspicious but is still being investigated. “We’re looking at it as accidental at this time, but the incident remains under investigation,” said Lt. Vince Wieland of the Peoria Police Department’s criminal investigation division. “There’s nothing to indicate it was anything but an accident.” Vanessa Gardner, meanwhile, remembered the boy she considered her son Monday as an intelligent music lover who acted beyond his years. His favorite song was “Imma Bee” by the Black Eyed Peas. “He was into everything. He loved music. Music was his thing – and dancing,” Vanessa Gardner said at the family’s East Bluff home. “He thought he was one of the big boys.” Acting that way sometimes meant warning older kids not to do something or they would get in trouble. But Earl could hold his own with an adult, too. “He didn’t act like a 2 1/2 year old. He was so articulate,” she said. “You could have a grown-up conversation with him.” The Gardners now are facing the prospect of mornings without that adult chatter from a child’s mouth and struggling to make sense of the death. “He was a good kid. He was a happy boy,” Vanessa Gardner said. “It’s like he had too much life in him.” Matt Buedel can be reached at 686-3154 or mbuedel@pjstar.com. Copyright 2011 pjstar.com. Some rights reserved

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