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Missouri man charged with felony after fleeing home where young child was killed by gunfire

By Betsy Webster

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    INDEPENDENCE, Missouri (KCTV, KSMO) — Police have identified a child shot and killed in Independence on Christmas Eve as 3-year-old Benjamin Cope, Jr.

23-year-old Ashton Cleveland is in custody in Nebraska facing criminal charges related to a crash that occurred as he was fleeing the home and a break-in miles away, near Omaha, which authorities say was yet another attempt to evade arrest.

A light pole at the end of the block where the child was killed is covered in flowers and stuffed toys, including one of Rudolph the Reindeer, a reference to when he was killed.

A family caught up in the wreck four miles from where they child was shot is saddened and angry.

“Everything just kind of flew and we spun,” said Hayley Radford of what happened when the car she was riding in was hit hard by another car.

Her father, James Radford, was driving. Her 5-year-old daughter, Dixie, was in the back seat.

“I mean we’re lucky to be walking away for the speed he was going,” said James Radford.

It was 4:34 p.m. on Friday when they were hit passing through the intersection at Truman Road and Noland Road. They told police they had a green light and that the person whose car hit them drove off afterwards. On Sunday, Cleveland was charged in Jackson County court with the felony of leaving the scene of an injury accident.

Court documents indicate he crashed into the family while fleeing a home where a 3-year-old was killed by gunfire. The documents indicate it was 4:32 p.m. when police were called to a home at 557 South Glenwood Avenue in Independence about a child who’d been shot. Initially they were told there was a drive-by shooting. Later, they were told the child shot himself accidentally with a gun sitting on Cleveland’s lap.

“A witness at the residence advised the 2-year-old grabbed the gun on the Defendants [sic] lap, and it went off striking the child in the head,” a portion of the court documents reads.

Police have since clarified that the child was 3 years old.

“Cowardly, heartless, careless” is how James Radford describes Cleveland’s alleged actions.

“Like how does that run through your mind that you’re going to even leave?” asked an incredulous and angry Hayley Radford. “And then you just get into a wreck and then you take off not knowing if there’s a child in the car.”

James Radford saw the car speeding through the red light and sped up himself to try to miss it. As a result, they were hit in the rear quarter panel instead of directly at one of their doors. Dixie was in her car seat. Her mom and grandpa are grateful she only has bruises from her seat belt. Her mom has a concussion.

The following account is from the collision-related court documents.

A license plate had fallen off of the 2018 Chevy Cruz that struck the Radford’s car. Police ran the plate and went to the home where it was registered. A Chevy Cruz was parked there. It had substantial front-end damage. The front and side airbags had been deployed. The rear plate matched the one left behind at the wreck.

Police questioned the two people at the home, Cleveland’s girlfriend and her mother. They initially said the car had been stolen and the mother found it while on a walk. The girlfriend later told police Cleveland arrived at her home on foot, said he was in trouble and needed to leave, then told them where to find the car.

Police indicated Cleveland had been visiting friends at the home where the child was shot and fled right before the 911 call was made. They indicated that after leaving his girlfriend’s home, he hired a Lyft to go to Omaha where he planned to stay with a friend of his girlfriend. That woman, the court documents said, decided she didn’t want to get involved and called law enforcement.

A probable cause statement filed in Douglas County, Nebraska county court indicates law enforcement there were conducting surveillance for him when they saw him smash the window of a pickup then saw him lift the hood of the truck. They arrested him. He told authorities he was just trying to get into the truck to stay warm.

“I’m so glad they caught him, because if not, God only knows what he would have done next,” said James Radford. “We’re heartbroken for that family.”

Cleveland is awaiting extradition from the Omaha area to face the charge related to the wreck.

He has not yet been charged with anything specific to the little boy’s shooting death.

A press release from the Douglas County, Nebraska Sheriff’s Office states, “At the Sheriff’s Office, Cleveland implicated himself in the incident that left a minor child dead in Independence Missouri earlier in the day as well as another shooting incident being investigated in Missouri. DCSO booked Cleveland for local charges of Theft, Criminal Mischief and possession of drug paraphernalia.”

It did not provide specifics of the other shooting incident in Missouri.

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