Rodeo star’s wife sparks debate after admitting she left 3-year-old son unsupervised before he drowned

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

The death of rodeo star Spencer Wright’s 3-year-old son has gripped the attention of people outside the world of professional rodeo, in part because it has spurred a wrenching debate about parental choices and responsibilities and whether the boy’s death was avoidable, with his mother admitting Thursday to making a mistake that led him falling into a creek near their Utah home.

Early Thursday morning, four days after Levi Wright died in a Salt Lake City hospital, after being removed from life support, his mother, Kallie Wright went on Facebook to say something  heartbreaking, “vulnerable and hard.” The mother of three admitted that she left her little boy unsupervised on his motorized toy tractor while she went back into the house to attend to something.

“That’s a decision that will haunt me for the rest of my life,” Wright wrote. “In that moment he was my responsibility alone.” Wright also said, “I will lose sleep over this for eternity.”

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Wright’s statement struck a chord with parents who responded to her post. Many shared that “no parent is perfect” and that they, too, had made mistakes. Wright’s error, they said, is reminiscent of mothers and fathers who have briefly left a room or turned their backs on their young children “for a few seconds,” only to find that their children have slipped into water, gone near a fire or disappeared into a crowd or in traffic.

This parental discussion has been going on since news broke on May 21 that Levi Wright was in critical condition after he drove his motorized toy tractor into a creek on his mother and father’s  rural property in southwestern Utah.

The sheriff’s department in Beaver County reported on May 21 that it had received a call just after 6 p.m. that a boy was missing after “the reporting party” lost visual contact with him. Multiple agencies, including search and rescue units, responded. They quickly located the boy in the creek and performed life-saving measures before having having him airlifted to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City.

Two days later, Wright went on Facebook to thank first responders and she continued to update readers on her son’s condition over the next 12 days. After an initial report that Levi had “woken up,” Wright subsequently explained that he had a brain injury and the results of the MRI were “not good,” suggesting “a certain quality of life” if he survived. She said that she and her husband, who won the world title in rodeo in 2014, had “a very long and tremendous road ahead of us, full of unknowns.” She spoke of consulting various experts their options, while also praying “for a miracle.”

On Sunday, Wright announced that she and her husband — “after several sleepless nights, lots of research, multiple conversations with the world’s best neurologists and millions of prayers” — were facing their “biggest fear.” But after more prayer, she said they had decided to let Levi go.

“Soon I’ll climb into bed with my baby and hold him as he falls asleep for the last time on this earth,” Wright wrote. “I find comfort in knowing he will be restored to the perfect little boy he was & have the ability to do all the things he loves!

As Wright noted, their family’s ordeal attracted attention from across the country, with their son bringing “out humanity across the nation” and inspiring “so many” to drop “to the knees” and be reminded of “what truly matters in the world.” Indeed, Wright’s received tens of thousands of comments of support on her Facebook posts, with people writing such messages as: “shattered for you Kallie” and “praying for the comfort that only our Heavenly Father can give.”

But in comments sections for news articles about the family’s ordeal, people had questions. They wondered how Levi had ended up in a creek and why his mother wasn’t watching him, especially if he was playing on a motorized toy tractor. They indeed questioned the safety of these large, “ride-on” toy vehicles, which usually operate on 12-volt batteries, offer several low-speed options and are marketed to children as young as 18 months.

Wright decided to address some of those questions in her Facebook post Thursday, which she said she wrote at 3 a.m. while her mind is “running wild.” Wright explained that a creek runs through their 24-acre property which separates their home from “Grandma and Granpa’s.” Most of the time the creek is dry, and a concrete road runs through it, over which she and her family go back and forth to visit the grandparents. “My kids have rode their bikes, driven their ride-on toys & even walked this way a million times,” she said.

On May 21, water was running in the creek, Wright acknowledged. Levi had asked to play on his tractor, and Wright said OK, but she said she told him he should stay near the house, not go near the creek or try to drive to his grandparents’ house.

“As he drove off, I ran back to the house,” Wright said. She said she “honestly” can’t remember whether she went back inside to check on her sleeping baby, wash a bottle, put away lunch or do the laundry.

“Whatever it was, wasn’t more important than following him that day,” Wright said, asserting that she’s “not a perfect mom but I am a good mom.”

Wright also addressed those judging her: “Never say never because it only takes seconds and it can happen to you too. I pray anyone who judges me or has hurtful words to say never finds themself on the receiving end of a nightmare like this.”

Many of the more than 7,000 replies to Wright’s statement agreed that she clearly is “an amazing mother” and that she either doesn’t owe anyone any explanations or she doesn’t deserve to be judged. Many also said they couldn’t fathom “the agony” she’s in, not just for the loss of her son but for the challenges she will have in forgiving herself. Some of her supporters appear to also live on rural properties, where they said kids are raised to stay safe around hazards like creeks.

“Anyone judging you in this situation is a fool, plain and simple. You were and are doing the best you can just like anybody else,” one person wrote. Another said, “Kids move fast and anyone who has children knows that. Lots of love sent your way. Praying for peace and comfort for you in the days to come.”

But elsewhere, people were judging her and called Levi’s death an “avoidable tragedy.”

On People magazine’s Instagram post about Wright’s statement, one woman wrote: “Nope. I don’t neglect my kids near water. Simple as that. We have a creek behind our house. We fenced it off before our first was even born.”

Another added: “Kids can get away from you real fast if you’re not careful, but leaving him outside by himself near water is negligent. My condolences to the family.” Yet another questioned the timeline Wright offered, saying, “It takes more than a (expletive) second for a child to get down to the river and drown. That (expletive) takes several minutes. Who the (expletive) leaves a TODDLER near a river alone?”

But the debate, it seems, will continue, with many still saying it’s cruel for anyone to judge Wright.

“There isn’t always someone to blame or a reason to blame them,” one person wrote. “A tragic accident is just that. Horribly sad and completely unintentional. And for a parent add heartbreak and extreme guilt to that. Think about a time you were in a situation like that and how you hoped to be treated.”

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.