DHS Worker Connected To Two Toddler Death Cases Dies

Wednesday, July 13th 2011, 11:08 pm
By: News 9

Michael Konopasek, News 9

CHANDLER, Okla. – An Oklahoma Department of Human Services worker on administrative leave for his handling of the Serenity Deal case died Wednesday.

Police say a family friend found Donald Wheeler's body near a baseball camp in Chandler.

Wheeler was under investigation at the time of his death for apparently not following policy in the Serenity Deal case which may have prevented the five-year-old's murder. He also faced criticism over his role in the Kelsey Smith Briggs case. Kelsey died as a result of child abuse several years ago.

In between a cemetery and a baseball camp in Chandler is a road that leads to a mystery.

"I need an ambulance out at the baseball camp right now," said Wheeler's friend in a 911 call. "I have a man on the ground. He is not responding."

Shortly after 10:30 Wednesday morning a friend found Wheeler dead. Police said it appears to be a suicide but they are still investigating the death.

Family members told police it was not out of the ordinary for Wheeler to go walking every morning, but when he did not return home, they went searching for him. They found his lifeless body in a wooded area.

"He came out here to walk at 7:30 this morning … his wife called me," said the 911 caller.

Wheeler came under fire in mid June after he was accused of not making the required number of visits to check on five-year-old Serenity Deal. Serenity ended up dead and her father charged with her murder. Shortly after, Wheeler was placed on paid administrative leave.

Wheeler is one of four case workers DHS is investigating for the roles they played in the Serenity Deal debacle.

"Everyone at DHS is shocked and saddened by the death of Mr. Wheeler, and we want to extend our thoughts and condolences to his family," said Sheree Powell of the DHS.

The DHS would not comment about the current investigation against Wheeler or the other case workers.

There is no word on why Wheeler may have taken his own life, but a local attorney said Wheeler had contacted his office earlier in the week to possibly bring suit against the DHS for harassment.

The Medical Examiner's office will determine Wheeler's exact cause of death.

Meanwhile, the DHS said it has counselors on hand to help employees get through this difficult time.