This one knocked my socks off, you guys.
I’ll recap the story for you before I get into today’s update. On February 17, 2020, a horrific car accident in Fort Myers, Florida took the life of three-year-old Serenity Rose Robinson, a gorgeous, sassy little girl with curly brown hair and personality for days. Serenity died after being ejected from the minivan driven by her mother, Leslie Joe Zeagler, who was “impaired by various multiple controlled substances” at the time of the accident. To make matters worse, Serenity was not restrained in a car seat or even a seatbelt.
Serenity’s death was one of the most preventable deaths I’ve ever covered… and as it turns out, someone else besides her mother must bear some of that responsibility, because he could have saved this sweet baby’s life a full month before the accident that claimed it.
During a press conference on June 9, Fort Myers police Chief Derrick Diggs announced that a second arrest had been made in the case. The man taken into custody was a fellow Fort Myers police officer, 25-year-old Tyler Williams. Due to the nature of the charges against him, I will not be calling him Officer Williams in this post.
According to Tyler’s arrest warrant, which contained details discovered both during a police investigation and from Tyler’s own bodycam footage, the officer had contact with Leslie Joe Zeagler prior to the fatal accident on February 17, and had he followed protocol, Serenity may very well be alive today.
Just before 5:00 AM on January 18, 2020, Tyler Williams pulled over a silver 2005 Kia minivan for speeding. The occupants of the van included driver Carly Hartnett (30) and passengers Leslie Joe Zeagler (30) and Serenity Rose Robinson (3), who was sleeping in the back seat. During the traffic stop, footage was recorded on Tyler’s bodycam showing syringes that later tested positive for heroin, as well as a plastic bag containing crystal meth.
Carly, by the way, was also identified as the other passenger in the van during the February 17 accident.
On the January 18 bodycam footage, Tyler’s voice is audible, telling the women they weren’t being arrested and asking where they were going and if they were using drugs, which they both denied. Carly and Leslie denied ownership of the drugs in the van, saying someone else had used the vehicle previously. Tyler told them he didn’t believe them, addressing the drugs in the van along with a three-year-old.
“I am going to put this in reality for you, and hopefully we can change our habits in the future,” he said, making a suggestion that they may have just come from buying the meth. “I didn’t say I was taking you to jail, because we are going to have a whole come-to-Jesus step, and we are going to change our lifestyle, because I don’t need this in front of a child.”
If both women went to jail and their van was towed, he said, the child would be taken by the state. “That is a beautiful little girl. She doesn’t deserve that.”
After Carly offered to go undercover to buy drugs and Tyler turned her down, saying it wouldn’t go well with a kid in the car, he told the women that if he saw them out driving again, he would pull them over and search their vehicle with the aid of a narcotics dog. He told them this opportunity was their “freebie,” which he was giving them because he was “feeling gracious for some reason. I don’t know why. Ultimately, I really don’t feel like dealing with DCF at 6:00 in the morning.”
The heroin syringe was never turned in, according to Tyler’s arrest warrant, and the crystal meth he collected from the van was not submitted for fingerprinting or analysis, although he did submit the drug the same day to be destroyed in a “drug burn.”
In February, the Fort Myers Police Department received calls from Kelly Schwartz, who is the girlfriend of Serenity’s father, Randy Robinson. Kelly’s calls were directed to the FMPD’s Internal Affairs office. Tyler’s arrest warrant also states that he took part in a recorded three-way phone conversation in February with Kelly and Randy, who was in Lee County Jail at the time on charges of driving on a suspended license as a habitual offender. During that call, the three discussed the February 17 van accident, Serenity’s death, and the January 18 traffic stop.
During that call, Tyler told Randy and Kelly that he only found a small amount of drugs in the car, and because it wasn’t clear who owned the drugs, he could not arrest either woman. The day after the phone call, Tyler was placed on paid leave from the police department.
The transcript of that phone call shows that Tyler told Kelly and Randy that he did, in fact, report the January traffic stop to DCF, which DCF said was untrue. The agency has no record of Tyler Williams requesting its involvement in January.
DCF had a total of three interactions with Leslie involving Serenity, as per the arrest warrant. The first was in August of 2016 when Serenity was born testing positive for opiates and showing symptoms of opioid withdrawal. The second took place in October 2019 and involved information about Leslie’s grandfather, a registered sex offender, and a report that heroin was being sold from their house. The last interaction was regarding the accident that ended Serenity’s life.
Tyler Williams is faced with a third-degree felony charge of knowingly and willfully failing to report known or suspected child abuse, abandonment, or neglect as a mandatory reporter. He was released from the Lee County Jail on the afternoon of Tuesday, June 9 on a $10,000 bond. According to Chief Diggs, Tyler may also face internal charges for violating department policy.
Tyler’s attorney said his client did not call DCF about the January 18 incident “based on his experience in the field.” I’d like to counter that with the suggestion that he didn’t call based on his own laziness and unwillingness to fill out extra paperwork.
WINK News interviewed Randy Robinson and Kelly Schwartz after Tyler Williams’ arrest. Randy told the reporter, “It’s disappointing, you know; we expect the officers of the law to do, you know, the right thing, or at least protect kids.”
Although he cried tears of joy when he heard that Tyler would be arrested he said, the elation didn’t last long. In tears, he said, “It’s just hard… just hard, man. I just want justice for my baby. That’s all.”
Randy, now out of jail, plans to fight for justice for Serenity. “Hopefully she can change things out here for the next little kid.”
Click here for my ongoing coverage of Serenity’s case.
Sources: News-Press, WINK News