Murder charge

SALAMANCA – A 30-year-old Salamanca man is in custody, following the death of a 3-year-old.

According to Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard, Justin Crouse of Salamanca was taken into custody without incident at 5 a.m. Wednesday.

The incident occurred Tuesday morning when the victim’s mother, Tashia Seneca, called 911 after discovering her son, Gage, was not breathing.

“(Tuesday) morning at about 8:30, members of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office responded to a residence on the Cattaraugus Indian Territory, along with the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation Volunteer Fire Company for a first aid call involving a 3-year-old child that was not breathing,” Howard said during a press conference.

Tashia Seneca had woken up on Tuesday, and discovered that Gage was not breathing. The child’s grandmother, who is also an EMT, began CPR while waiting for additional help to arrive.

“No problems at the house, no one interrupting with any care or whatever, so it was a very cooperative encounter when the emergency services people arrived there,” Howard said. “But, it was rather clear to them that the child had been dead for several hours before they arrived.”

Gage was transported to Lake Shore Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival, according to Howard. The child was then transported to the Erie County Medical Center for an autopsy, which indicated the child died as a result of blunt force trauma to the head.

Following an investigation, Crouse, who is Tashia’s boyfriend, was arrested Wednesday.

“He in fact caused the blunt force trauma, which was the cause of death,” Howard said. “Mr. Crouse woke up at about 1 o’clock in the morning, went out into the living room, and found the 3-year-old child out of his bed. In the process of taking the child back to his bedroom, there was contact made by Mr. Crouse on the child, which caused the injury which ultimately caused the death.”

Howard said following the results of the autopsy, Sheriff’s Office personnel returned to the home to conduct additional interviews. It was at that time that Crouse was picked up from the residence and asked to go in for questioning.

Over the last five years, Howard said the Sheriff’s office has received three calls to the residence, none of which involved crimes or abuse against children. There was a domestic dispute, which did not include Seneca or Crouse, and complaints of criminal mischief and burglary at the residence.

Two other children also lived in the home, a 4-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl. Crouse was not the father of any of the children, but had a close relationship with the older boy.

Crouse is currently unemployed. Howard said he had no felony arrests, but had a total of nine misdemeanor offenses on his record.

“I think there had been several misdemeanors and several petty offenses,” Howard said. “But no felonies and definitely no prior offense for any violent crimes.”

Crouse was arraigned in the Town of Brant Court on Wednesday, and pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge. He is being held in Erie County Jail.