Bridge collapse survivor arrested in child's injuries

(AP) - Michael Stoner told a heart-wrenching tale last week of being caught in the Minneapolis bridge collapse as he and his fiancee rushed to the hospital to be with her injured 2-year-old daughter.

But police said this week that Stoner left something out of his story: He is now in jail, accused of inflicting the life-threatening injuries the child suffered.

The 26-year-old Spooner man initially said 2-year-old Emmaline Manning began suffering seizures after a fall down the stairs, Washburn County District Attorney Michael Bitney said.

He drove the child to the cafe in Baronett where her mother, 21-year-old Crystal Manning, worked. The couple then took the child to a Shell Lake hospital, and doctors had her airlifted to Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

"What happened to Mr. Stoner and his fiancee was tragic. But what happened to the daughter was not a tragic accident."

The couple told journalists they were rushing to the Minneapolis hospital to be with the child when the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed with them on it. Their Jeep landed upside down in the Mississippi River and quickly sank. The couple said they were able to escape through an open window.

Manning said she spotted her daughter's blanket in the water after she surfaced.

Before you keep reading ...

MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.

"I swam by this and said, 'There's my daughter's blanket!'" she said. "How unreal that it's right there."

But authorities said Monday that the couple told only part of the story.

Bitney and Washburn County Sheriff Terry Dryden said Stoner was arrested on child abuse charges after doctors determined Emmaline's injuries were consistent with shaken-baby syndrome. Stoner was being held Tuesday in Washburn County Jail.

The child has a life-threatening brain injury, and doctors found a burn on one leg and a human bite mark and bruises in other spots, Bitney said. Doctors have taken drastic measures to save her.

"They've cut off half her skull to allow the brain to swell," he said. "It's horrendous."

Bitney said Emmaline was on life support in grave condition. If she dies, Stoner could be charged with homicide, he said. Stoner is not Emmaline's father.

"He was the only one with her the day she was injured," Bitney said. "He had dropped the mother off at work early that morning. Then he came back, and in early afternoon claimed the child had fallen down the stairs."

The prosecutor said physicians were suspicious from the start as they eyed the large, long burn on the toddler's leg, the bite, old and new bruises and the massive head injury, which would not have been caused by a fall down carpeted stairs.

It's not clear what Manning knew about the injuries, but she could be charged as well, Bitney said.

He said there was sadness on many levels in the case.

"What happened to Mr. Stoner and his fiancee was tragic, just like it was for all the people who were in the terrible bridge collapse," Bitney said. "But what happened to the daughter was not a tragic accident.

"It was, we believe, the result of physical abuse of a child, whose life now hangs in the balance."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)