Suspect in toddler’s death charged in Missouri hit-and-run crash


INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — Independence police say a suspect wanted in two local crimes has been arrested in Nebraska.

On Christmas Eve in Independence, police said a 2-year-old died after picking up Ashton Cleveland’s gun. Officials said he then fled and got into a hit-and-run crash that left another family injured.

The Radford family was headed home to make cookies on Christmas Eve when police said Cleveland hit them as he drove near the intersection of Truman and Nolan roads. The wreck sent the Radford family spinning into an electrical box.

Now, as Cleveland sits behind bars, this Independence family is grateful they survived.

“You never know what the next day is gonna bring,” Hayley Radford said. “Hold on to babies as tight as possible.”

The crash left her, her father and her 5-year-old daughter bruised up.

“I seen him coming through the intersection, but it was just too late,” James Radford said. “I mean, we spun around and was up on the curb before we knew.”

Police said shortly before the hit-and-run, Cleveland had a gun in his lap that 2-year-old Benjamin Cope Jr. grabbed before it went off, and a bullet struck the child.

Cleveland now sits behind bars in Nebraska after being arrested in Omaha while allegedly trying to break into a vehicle. The 23-year-old has been charged with leaving the scene of an accident connected to the crash.

“All that I could think of is, ‘Is my baby OK? What’s wrong with my baby? Is my baby safe?” Hayley Radford said.

Now the Radfords not only want justice for the crash that’s left them injured but also for the family going through the holidays without their 2-year-old. Cleveland has not been charged at this time in relation to the toddler’s death.

“He’s gonna be sitting in a jail cell,” Hayley Radford said. “I mean, that baby lost his life … something needs to happen with him.”

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