Parents arrested after Lakeland baby tests positive for methamphetamine

Nicole Finley, 20. A mugshot of Nowlen is not available at this time. (Photo courtesy of Polk County Jail)

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Police said a Lakeland couple was arrested Tuesday after their baby tested positive for methamphetamine.

According to an arrest report, 20-year-old Nicole Finley and 29-year-old Bruce Nowlen brought their child to Lakeland Regional Hospital to treat an infection on his leg, and the child tested positive for methamphetamine.

Police said the infected area was black in color.

Finley told detectives the child had been bitten by mosquitoes a few days earlier, and one of the bites became infected. She said the infection worsened and the wound started to smell like “rotten flesh.” In order to ease the pain, the parents said they tried giving the child a bath, but when he entered the tub, “puss began to shoot out of his leg,” the affidavit states.

The couple claimed they Googled the child’s symptoms and determined he was bitten by a “Brown Recluse Spider.”

Finley said she called the doctor’s office and spoke with a Physician’s Assistance who told her medical attention was not necessary because the wound was not black or blue. The PA allegedly advised her to treat the wound like she would a boil, but police said neither Finley nor her husband could provide proof of this call.

The affidavit states Finley finally decided to seek medical attention once she noticed the child was pale and wheezing and had trouble breathing. She told detectives the child had lost his appetite and hadn’t eaten or drank for a day. She later said he would drink and ounce or two to sustain himself, and she gave him Pedialyte when he began to lose color.

She claimed she did not seek medical attention sooner because she suffers from anxiety and was having a panic attack.

Finley explained that the family was staying at a Lakeland hotel because their home was damaged by Hurricane Irma. An officer later inspected the hotel room and said it was filthy and unsanitary and that there were trash, rotten food and dirty diapers everywhere.

Detectives learned couple was investigated by the Department of Children and Families in May 2017 for drug use. Finley told detectives the couple had been investigated, but they were not currently abusing drugs.

When questioned by detectives, Nowlen also denied using drugs.  Police observed him shaking his legs, picking his fingers and face and said he had difficulty making eye contact.  Detectives also observed open sores on his face and arms.

“In my training and experience it appeared the sores on Nowlen’s face, and the way he was acting was the result of drug use,” a detective wrote in the arrest report.

Both Nowlen and Finley refused drug tests.

The child was transported to Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando for surgery to address the severe infection.  Medical records show additional surgical procedures/debridements would be required, the affidavit states.

“The child is critically ill due to sepsis, necrotizing fasciitis and acute respiratory failure and patient is receiving intubation, mechanical ventilation, antibiotics, multiple debridements and irrigations, blood products.  The patient is at risk for septic shock, multiorgan failure and cardiopulmonary arrest,” said Dr. Irina Tex.

Police also uncovered a message exchange between Finley and a relative, in which Finley asks her relative what she should do about the infection. In the messages, police said Finley pretended she had already sought treatment for the child, several days before the child was taken to the hospital.

“Finley and Nowlen did not seek any medical treatment, there was a substantial risk of death from the infection, as noted by doctors,” the affidavit reads. “Finley and Nowlen willfully neglected [the child] and by doing so caused great bodily harm,” the affidavit states.

Finley and Nowlen were both taken into custody and charged with child neglect.

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