You are here

Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of Oklahoma

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, November 8, 2021

Tulsa Man Whose Children Died in a Hot Vehicle Sentenced for Child Neglect

A Tulsa man was sentenced Monday in federal court for leaving his two children  unsupervised for more than four hours, at which time the children gained access to his parked vehicle and died due to extreme heat exposure, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Clint Johnson.

U.S. District Judge Claire V. Eagan sentenced Dustin Lee Dennis, 33, to 48 months in federal prison followed by five years of supervised release. 

Dennis fell asleep on June 13, 2020, only to wake up and discover his two children deceased in the back seat of his pick-up truck. He pleaded guilty on July 13, 2021, to two counts of child neglect in Indian Country. Three-year-old Ryan and four-year-old Tegan were citizens of the Cherokee Nation, and the crime occurred within the boundaries of the Muscogee Nation Reservation.

Dennis fell asleep the afternoon of June 13, 2020, leaving his two children unsupervised. The children entered Dennis’s vehicle in the driveway, were unable to get out of the truck, and died from exposure to extremely high temperatures while being trapped in the truck.

In his plea agreement, Dennis admitted that while caring for his children on June 12 and 13, 2020, he got high on cocaine and stayed up playing video games.

In court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gina Gilmore outlined the evidence against the defendant. Dennis and his brother discussed purchasing and using cocaine days before the death of the children. On June 12, 2020, his brother indicated that he had the “stuff,” referencing cocaine, and the two could play video games at his home. Dustin later texted his brother that he would have to bring his children since his mother could not take care of them. Dennis then wrote that he was headed to his brother’s house.

Surveillance video showed Dennis and the children returning home just before 1 am on June 13. At 1:03 am, Dennis indicated in a text to his brother that he was turning his game on and later texted that he did a couple of lines and that he hated chopping up cocaine when it’s moist. He indicated he was about to do some more.

Surveillance video later showed Dennis leaving his residence alone at approximately noon on June 13 for 11 minutes during which time Dennis stated he drove to a QuikTrip. When Dennis returned home from the convenience store, he fell asleep. Surveillance footage showed the two children trying to get into Dennis’ truck at 1:22 pm when the vehicle’s alarm went off. They attempted a second time at 1:29 pm and successfully gained access to the truck. The video later captured Dennis exiting his apartment and searching for his children approximately four hours later, at 5:32 pm. Within minutes he discovered the children deceased in the truck.

Dustin Dennis was initially indicted on Aug. 7, 2020. On March 4, 2021, Dennis was charged in a superseding indictment with four counts of child neglect in Indian Country. He and his brother, Michael Dennis, were also charged with 12 counts of use of a communication facility in committing, causing, and facilitating the commission of a drug trafficking felony.

Michael Dennis pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance on July 29, 2021, and was sentenced Monday to 18 months of probation.

The FBI and Tulsa Police Department conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gina S. Gilmore prosecuted the case.

Topic(s): 
Indian Country Law and Justice
Contact: 
Public Affairs 918-382-2755
Updated November 8, 2021