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Mom ‘distracted’ by cell phone while baby girl drowned in tub

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — An eastern Idaho mother, who served time in jail after her infant daughter drowned in the bathtub, is breaking her silence about what happened.

Kelsee Flatland, 27, was charged with involuntary manslaughter after her 13-month-old, Zyra Flatland, died while taking a bath in September 2016. Flatland put Zyra and her two-year-old son in the tub and then went downstairs to pay her cell phone bill.

Court documents show Flatland “had been using her phone for a period of at least 35 minutes and possibly more than 50 minutes from the time she left the bathroom and the time she returned.”

Flatland’s ex-husband, Paul Flatland, was playing video games while the children were bathing and told investigators he did not know they were in the tub. He was never charged.

As part of a plea agreement, Kelsee Flatland pleaded guilty to felony injury to a child and was sentenced in July to serve 100 days in jail.

During an interview this week with EastIdahoNews.com, Flatland said the day her daughter died started with a fun breakfast in the kitchen.

“I tried to make apple puff pancakes but we didn’t have apples so we did peaches,” Flatland recalls. “It turned more into a peach cobbler so for breakfast we had peach cobbler with ice cream and bacon.”

Flatland says breakfast “got really messy” so she put both of her children in the bathtub.

“They were playing around and I thought this would be a good time to grab my cell phone, pay the bill and then I’ll be right back up,” Flatland says. “From there, it was cell phone epidemic. You get distracted, lose track of time and you don’t realize how many minutes have passed. I just got distracted.”

After Flatland’s son got out of the tub on his own, she went to check on Zyra and discovered her young daughter was fully submerged under water.

“I pulled her out of the bathtub and hit her back,” Flatland says. “I tried to clear her airways and started CPR. Paul came in and he took over and told me to call 911. I called 911 and I ended up re-taking over CPR while I was on the phone with the ambulance.”

Emergency crews arrived and Zyra was rushed to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center. The Flatlands dropped their son at a neighbors and went to the hospital hoping for a miracle.

“They tried for 40 minutes to resuscitate her and decided they were going to try one last time. If they didn’t get her heart beating, they would pronounce her dead,” Flatland says. “That one last time her heart started beating.”

Despite having a heartbeat, Zyra’s brain was severely damaged so the Flatlands opted to take her off life support and donate her organs. Flatland says a little boy received Zyra’s heart, a young girl received her liver and a father of eight children received her kidney. Zyra’s lungs were donated for research of premature babies.

While grieving for her little girl, Flatland had to deal with the legal system and she became pregnant shortly after Zyra’s death. Serenity Flatland was born 14 weeks early in July at Primary Children’s Hospital – just days before her mother was sentenced.

“I had her on a Wednesday and I was sentenced the next Monday,” Flatland says. “It was frustrating because I had this tiny baby in the hospital and I wanted to be there for her. It felt a little unfair but at the same time, I knew there had to be consequences for my actions.”

Flatland completed her jail sentence before Christmas and remains on probation for seven years. She and Paul have divorced and Paul has been caring for their son.

Serenity remains in the ICU at Primary Children’s and Flatland visits her every Wednesday and on weekends.

Flatland is working at a restaurant and living with her mom. She says, oddly enough, this terrible tragedy has made her a better mother and she hopes other parents learn from her mistake.

“Don’t take the little things for granted,” she says. “I was on my cell phone a while back looking at videos and I heard Zyra’s cry. Back then I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I wish this baby would stop crying’ but now it’s ‘I wish I could hear that baby cry again.’ Don’t take the little things for granted.”