Share this article

print logo

North Tonawanda man sentenced to probation in death of son, 3 Boy pulled TV onto himself while Stofle slept

As he faced a judge Wednesday for sentencing in his role in the death of his 3-year-old son, Zachary C. Stofle shed tears.

"I miss my son and take full responsibility," he said. "I will do anything in my power to fix my problems and better myself."

Stofle, 24, of North Tonawanda, was sentenced to five years' probation in the death of his son, Dane, who was killed in a darkened bedroom when he apparently pulled a 19-inch television set off a dresser while the father slept in a nearby room.

Outside court, Stofle's tears had stopped.

He said he was unhappy with his sentence and with being criminally prosecuted.

"I don't think it was fair," he said. "They made me out to be somebody who I absolutely am not. I locked the [bedroom] door for a reason, so he wouldn't get out onto the busy Oliver Street, not so I could sleep."

Dane M. Stofle died Jan. 25, 2011, after his mother, Kirsten M. Stofle, had gone to work and he was left in a bedroom with two younger siblings.

"This child was locked in a bedroom in a known dangerous situation," Assistant District Attorney Robert A. Zucco said in court. "They knew any child in that room could injure himself, and the light bulb was unscrewed so the room was dark, and they were unable to turn the light on, so this defendant wouldn't be disturbed after a hard night of playing video games."

Defense attorney Dominic Saraceno disagreed. He said his client's son had a tendency to wander away.

"[Zachary Stofle] has expressed more remorse than any other client I have worked with," Saraceno said. "He is doing everything possible to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again."

Stofle was attending parenting classes, and mental health, drug and alcohol, and domestic violence counseling, his lawyer said.

Stofle pleaded guilty Dec. 20 to criminally negligent homicide. His wife pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of child. She will be sentenced June 14.

Both parents were promised probation provided they take Family Court-ordered parenting classes.

Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas postponed sentencing the father in March, telling him that he needed to start the parenting classes.

"In March you weren't ready [for probation]. Now you are," Farkas told Stofle after seeing an updated presentencing report.

On the morning of Dane's death, Kirsten Stofle told police that she left for work at 7:45 a.m. and heard Dane playing with his older sister in the children's bedroom. Zachary Stofle slept in but said he heard a noise at about 10 a.m. and found Dane facedown on the floor, with the TV set next to him.

Police said Dane had pulled the TV set down before. Zachary Stofle told investigators that they had only put the TV back three days before it fell on their son again.

In the original indictment, the Stofles were charged with second-degree manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. The parents were allowed to plea to lesser charges.

Zucco, the prosecutor, said his office was called to review the case because it was a child fatality and thought the plea was fair. "There was a questioning by the defense whether criminal prosecution was necessary, but we demonstrated that criminal charges were appropriate," he said.

He said the father had locked his children in the bedroom while he slept and didn't check on his children for hours.

Farkas said that Stofle had shown some dedication to making changes and agreed to the recommendation of probation. She ordered Stofle to stay away from drugs and alcohol, and to undergo a mental health evaluation.

Child Protective Services also was notified.

The Stofles have two other children, one who turned 3 in April and another who is just under age 1. Those children continue to live with their parents.

Zachary Stofle said outside the courtroom that Dane had gotten out before. He admitted that the television had fallen on his son in an incident before his death but said when it first happened they removed it, allowing him to have the TV back a few months later.

"I was raised that if you do good, then you have another chance," Stofle said of their decision to let Dane have the TV back.

"There is nothing you can do," he said, "to predict the future."

email: nfischer@buffnews.com