Daredevil tot gives exhausted dad a wake-up call

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By Linda Ireland

 Meet Madison Brooke.

Not yet 2, she has learned to escape the confines of car seats, cribs and playpens. She’s fearless, curious and loves to climb.

The little daredevil’s shenanigans have proven a source of both consternation and amusement for her busy parents, Philip and Tessa Wilkerson.

Her latest adventure, however, had serious consequences for her dad.

On the morning of Aug. 18 she “escaped” through a window in their Buffalo home and was toddling toward the highway when two passersby intervened. 

Before the day was over, Philip, 29, was facing a pair of felonies and a misdemeanor: first-degree wanton endangerment, abandonment of a minor and endangering the welfare of a minor. 

Philip was working night shift at the time. He had worked the night of Thursday, Aug. 16, ran some errands and picked up Madison from the babysitters. He slept for a while, got up, ate supper with his family and played with Madison for a couple of hours before he left for work at 11 p.m. 

Right after clocking in, he was informed he was “laid off” for the shift due to lack of work. He went back home at midnight to find that Madison was having a hard time going to sleep.

“Madison was having night terrors,” he said. “She’d wake up screaming.”

Philip offered to stay up with the baby so Tessa would be able to go to work the next day. 

Dad and toddler slept on the couch for part of the night, but Madison continued to wake up and need comforting to go back to sleep.

The next morning, Tessa gave Philip “a hug and a kiss” before going to work. 

Philip, already exhausted, was thankful that Madison went back to sleep.

“I thought I could lay down with her on the couch,” Philip said.

That worked for a time. But at some point, Madison woke up and Philip didn’t.

 “Madison got up – I guess she didn’t want to bother with me,” said Philip. “She destroyed the house (while I was asleep).”

The Wilkersons were – and still are – a busy couple. Besides working nights, Philip is in the National Guard. Tessa was working two jobs.

They took turns with Madison’s care and relied on a babysitter when it was necessary.

But that weekend, the babysitter was out of town.

“We were winging it,” Philip said. “I really wish instead of thinking, ‘she’ll sleep awhile longer,’ that I’d asked for help.”

While her dad slept, Madison climbed on a counter and got into a box of nails, scattering them around the house. She opened a jar of petroleum jelly and smeared it on various items. 

But then she fixated on the home’s window air conditioner. The Wilkersons live in an older house with large windows that are near the floor. They had placed cardboard around the sides of the air conditioner to fill in the gaps.

Madison “ripped away the cardboard from around the window air conditioner” and found a way to the ground outside.

LaRue Deputy Eric Williamson, who investigated the incident, said during a preliminary hearing that Madison had fallen from the window, about 5-feet to the ground. The curtain was pulled outside the window, possibly breaking her fall.

He said there was petroleum jelly smeared around the window frame and air conditioner, leaving clues as to what happened.

Philip thinks his daughter may have grabbed the curtain as she was attempting to get out of the window. He can picture her using the traction feet on her pajamas to slide down the wall.

“She’s very active and very smart,” he said. “I feel like she climbed out the window.”

Williamson testified he received a call about 3:30 p.m. that two men had spotted a small child walking toward the road in Buffalo. The men had knocked on doors, attempting to locate a parent.

Williamson found the Wilkerson’s house with the assistance of a family member.

Madison, he said, was covered with mud, dirt and scratches.

“She was happy, but a mess,” he said.

He called Child Protective Services who took Madison for evaluation.

The next thing Philip knew “a cop was knocking on the door and woke me up.”

“He asked, ‘where’s your daughter.’ I was scared to death – it was the world’s worst feeling,” said Philip. “I still feel like I’m a bad parent. I got locked up with three charges. I feel about an inch tall.”

Philip got to see his daughter briefly after the officer arrived.

“She was smiling at me,” he said. “She had a little scratch on her nose. She was filthy. She was in a sleeper and just really a mess.”

Philip spent five days in the LaRue County Detention Center before being released on a property bond.

“I was so worried about Tessa and Madison,” he said. “I kept calling to reassure myself that they were OK.”

“Those calling cards are expensive,” he added.

Philip was assigned a public defender, attorney Landon Tingle, by LaRue County District Judge C. Derek Reed.

Tingle asked for the felonies to be dismissed; Judge Reed agreed at the hearing, saying he did not find probable cause for the charges to be heard by a grand jury. 

Judge Reed said he heard “no evidence of intent.”

“He didn’t fire a gun in a theater with expectation it could hit someone,” he said in court. “What I heard was a man who overslept – and is trying to work.”

Williamson said after the hearing he would not present the evidence to the grand jury and did not wish to comment further on the case.

Philip still faces the misdemeanor charge – endangering the welfare of a minor. A pre-trial conference is set for Oct. 17.

While he was in jail, Tessa and other family members “baby-proofed” the house. The window air conditioner was taken out and moved to another location – one that Madison cannot reach. The window was closed and locked.

Philip said he appreciates the concern shown by the passersby who saw Madison outside the home.

 “I’m really grateful somebody saw her and called the sheriff’s office – something really bad could have happened to her.”

The family has made some changes as they adapt to Madison’s escape artist tendencies.

Philip has a different job on day shift “which helps with daycare” and Tessa hopes to work one job instead of two.

Philip said most people who heard about the incident have been “understanding.”

“Nothing like this has happened before,” he said. “Anyone who knows me knows I love my children.”


Update: Wilkerson pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge Oct. 17. He was sentenced to 20 days, probated for two years. He was fined $53; his court costs were waived.