Man jailed after autistic son drowned in pool with his arms bound

The Associated Press
·4-min read

A former western Michigan college professor has been sentenced to prison for manslaughter in the death of his autistic teenage son who drowned after spending an hour in an icy backyard pool with his arms restrained.

Timothy Koets, 51, was sentenced Monday to a minimum of two years in prison and a maximum of 15 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter. He had pleaded guilty in December to involuntary manslaughter and child abuse in the March 2019 death of 16-year-old Samuel Koets.

“Sam had value, and the sanction will not restore Sam, but it will recognise that all humans have value, and because of the neglect you committed, a valuable human has lost his life,” said Ottawa County Circuit Court Judge Jon Hulsing.

Samuel Koets drowned in the backyard pool at the family’s home in Georgetown Township, about 270 kilometres west of Detroit. His parents said he had autism, was nonverbal and functioned at the level of a 13 to 17-month-old child.

FILE - This image released by the Ottawa County Jail, shows Timothy Koets. Koets, a former western Michigan college professor has been sentenced to prison after pleading guilty in his severely autistic teenage son's drowning death in an icy backyard pool. Koets was sentenced Monday, Jan. 18, 2021 to a minimum of two years in prison and a maximum of 15 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter. (Ottawa County Jail/The Grand Rapids Press via AP File)
Timothy Koets (pictured) has been sentenced to prison after pleading guilty in his severely autistic teenage son's drowning death in an icy backyard pool. Source: AP

He said he woke his wife before leaving so she could watch Samuel. But Michelle Koets, who had worked a night shift as a registered nurse, fell back asleep after her husband said he was leaving.

Samuel's arms were bound to keep them restrained, and authorities said Timothy and Michelle Koets would restrain Samuel’s arms to prevent him from harming himself or others.

Dad admits he knew son was in icy pool

Timothy Koets previously admitted in court that he was negligent for leaving his son unsupervised on a back deck before he left for work to teach classes at Grand Rapids Community College.

Authorities said Koets knew his son had later gotten into the icy pool because his 13-year-old daughter texted him a photo of his son standing in the water.

The daughter told police she went around the house yelling for her mother, but no one answered. She said she saw her brother's arms were restrained and then left, but her father then asked her to check on the “freak”, the Grand Rapids Press reported.

According to court records, Koets' daughter replied that she thought her brother was stuck and sent her father another photo, showing him chest-deep in the pool water.

Severely autistic Samuel Koets (right) drowned in the backyard pool (left) at the family’s home in Georgetown
Severely autistic Samuel Koets (right) drowned in the backyard pool (left) at the family’s home in Georgetown Township. Source: ABC13

Koets instructed the daughter to get her mother, and after she shook her mother awake Michelle Koets sprinted to get her son out of the pool, where he had spent an hour.

But Samuel had gone under and couldn’t be resuscitated despite attempts by arriving rescuers.

Koets’ attorney David Kallman called the situation a “very unique and tragic” case, noting in court Monday (local time) that his client will have to live with the consequences of his actions for the rest of his life.

But Paul Kraus, Ottawa County prosecuting attorney, said Monday (local time) that Samuel was “routinely" left unattended even though he could not care for himself.

He said authorities had been called 15 times to the family home, mainly because Samuel “was unattended and had escaped from the residence.”

Father called son a ‘freak’ in text messages

Timothy Koets told the court he and the family learned to manage Samuel’s autism as best as they could and mentioned that he had used the word “freak" to describe his son in a text conversation with his daughter.

“The words that I used were not good," he said.

“It was a way of blowing off steam and I’m not excusing myself for that, but I would never harm or abuse Sam."

a stock image of Ritalin
After Samuel Koets death, authorities said his family continued to fill their son’s Ritalin prescription for months and used the drugs themselves. Source: Getty stock

Family used Samuel's Ritalin after his death

After their son’s death, authorities said the Koets continued to fill their son’s Ritalin prescription for months and used the drugs themselves.

Koets was also sentenced Monday (local news) to between two and four years in prison in the Ritalin case after also pleading guilty to obtaining a controlled substance by fraud.

Michelle Koets was sentenced in June 2019 to 21 days in jail on a misdemeanour charge of obtaining a controlled substance by false representation.

Timothy Koets had been a full-time faculty member at Grand Rapids Community College, but he was terminated by the school in January 2020.

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