Grand Canyon Abuse Trial: Grandson Says He Asked Witness To Call Police During Hike From Hell
PHOENIX -- The oldest grandson of a man standing trial on child abuse charges testified Thursday that he secretly asked another hiker to call 911 during a long, hot hike in the Grand Canyon last year.
The 12-year-old said his vision and hearing became altered and mountains appeared to sway during the 19-mile hike on Aug. 28, a day that saw temperatures as high as 108 degrees. He said he fell down several times because of cramping.
"I needed medical attention and I was hurting and he was hitting and pushing me and calling me fat," the boy said. "I was scared and it was hard and I was all weak and tired and kind of hurt."
Prosecutors have alleged that 45-year-old Christopher Alan Carlson of Indianapolis deprived his three grandsons of food and water and pushed, choked and repeatedly kicked them during hikes on Aug. 15 and Aug. 28.
A criminal complaint said Carlson put his grandsons – who were 12, 9 and 8 years-old at the time – in circumstances "likely to cause death or serious bodily injuries." The two younger grandsons testified in Phoenix federal court on Wednesday and earlier on Thursday.
Carlson is such a young grandfather because he had his first child – Tara Danaher, the mother of the boys – when he was 15. Danaher was 17 when her oldest was born.
Investigators have said that Carlson told them that the boys were overweight and that he thought hiking the Grand Canyon would help get them into shape.
Defense attorney Jeffrey Williams has portrayed Carlson as an active health nut who had a firm hand and wanted to show the boys the world. Like anyone after a long hike, the boys were tired, hungry and thirsty, but Carlson only allowed the boys to eat healthy food like tofu, hummus and veggie burgers, Williams said Wednesday in his opening statement.
"I suppose to an 8, 9 or 10-year-old that might seem like child abuse if you like cheeseburgers, French fries and pizza," he said. "He wanted to get them from behind the TV, the games and fast food."
The middle grandson said Thursday morning that Carlson discovered that the kids had hidden cauliflower, asparagus and fish in their van, but made them eat it even though the food had hair and other debris on it. Another time, the boy said Carlson made him eat broccoli that he had tried to flush down the toilet.
The youngest of the three brothers testified Wednesday that his grandfather took the boys on many "awesome" adventurous trips. In between the two hikes, Carlson took the boys on a tour of the Hoover Dam, to rides atop the Stratosphere hotel and a Criss Angel magic show in Las Vegas, and to Disneyland in California.
A ranger with binoculars spotted the group during their Aug. 28 hike, the same day a man died on another trail from heat exposure. The ranger reported seeing Carlson shoving the oldest boy and whipping him with a rolled-up T-shirt.
Rangers fed the boys and gave them water after one showed symptoms of heat stroke and the other two had signs of heat exhaustion and dehydration. Investigators said the boys were covered in cuts, bruises and scars that backed up their stories.
The oldest child told jurors Thursday that he threw up several times and said that Carlson denied him water at various instances while sipping from a jug himself. He said his grandfather got mad whenever he started walking too slow, and at one point hit him in the face with a rock, causing his lips to bleed.
"I started crying and walking faster and he kicked me in the butt and said, `Run,'" the boy said.
The boy said Carlson was in a hurry to get to the top of the Grand Canyon so he could see the sunset.
The middle grandson told jurors that his grandfather gave the boys food and water before the two hikes – "but not a lot." He said the worst part of the trip was throwing up at the bottom of the canyon and dealing with the pain from blisters on his feet.
Prosecutor Camille Bibles told jurors Wednesday that the middle child got the blisters on the first hike and that they hadn't fully healed by the second hike.
Susanne Clinton, a nurse in Flagstaff who evaluated the boys on Aug. 29, testified Thursday that the blisters were so bad at the end of the hike that they had turned into bleeding ulcers. The boy had to undergo treatment usually reserved for burn patients and couldn't wear shoes for weeks, she said.
Clinton also said the boys had severely chafed thighs because Carlson didn't let them wear underwear, and that the boys were dehydrated and had signs of heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
Bibles showed jurors pictures of his wounds and of bruises and cuts on the boys that they said were given to them by their grandfather. The photos also showed their raw, parched lips and dull eyes.
Carlson is charged with six counts of felony child abuse and faces life in prison if convicted. He has pleaded not guilty.
Testimony will resume Tuesday, and closing arguments are expected by the end of next week.
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