Suspecttestifies in toddler’s death

Published on Thu, Oct 20, 2005 by ara Nelson

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Suspect testifies in toddler’s death

By Tara Nelson

Jason D. Bunger, a resident of Ferndale who is being tried on charges of manslaughter in the death of Zakory Commissaris, a 20-month old Blaine infant who died last February, testified for more than four hours in Whatcom County Superior Court last week.

Whatcom County prosecutors charged Bunger, 30, with manslaughter in the first degree, which carries a maximum prison sentence of life to 20 years with fines as much as $50,000. Prosecutors suspect Bunger, who has two children of his own, ages eight and 11, may have contributed to the injuries that ultimately led to the boy’s death on February 6.

On Tuesday, a soft-spoken Bunger appeared in a blue suit jacket and a white dress shirt and said he never hit Zakory, often choking up during his accounts of his last moments with the boy.

“I never hurt Zakory,” he said. “He was my good buddy.”
On February 4 Bunger dropped off an unconscious Zakory at St. Josephs Hospital in Bellingham with marks and bruises on his body and two major blunt impact injuries on his head. Medical personnel there were able to revive the boy and Zakory was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle where he died on February 6 as a result of brain swelling.

According to court records, Zakory had been with Bunger for almost a week prior to the incident while Zakory’s parents had been absent. Bunger said this was a regular occurrence as the boy’s parents, Mike Commissaris and Danni Seymour frequently dropped Zakory off with him, often failing to return at the designated time. Once, when the boy’s parents asked Bunger to watch Zakory for a day, he said they did not return for a week, Bunger said according to a statement.

An autopsy conducted by the King County medical examiner reported that Zakory had more than 35 injuries to his body. Those included eight marks on his face, numerous marks on his belly and chest, an adult-sized human bite mark on his right arm, and two blunt impacts to different areas of his skull.

During an initial interview with investigators, Bunger said he had no explanation for the injuries on Zakory’s body or the bite mark on his arm and his only explanation for the head injuries was that Bunger thought Zakory fell off the top bunk bed on February 3, while he was taking a shower.

Following the incident, Bunger said he called the Poison Control Center where, he claimed a supervisor told him to, “just let the boy sleep.”

Indeed, court records indicate the Poison Control Center had received a call from a “Jason” who said his son had fallen off a bunk bed and was worried he had a possible concussion. Supervisors there, however, said they would never give advice to let a child sleep and their advice would have been to call 911, according to court records.
Bunger also said that, prior to the bunk bed incident, the boy had eaten his own feces, for which Bunger said he had to straddle him on the floor to remove the feces from his mouth with a spoon and his fingers. At one point, Bunger said Zakory became so difficult to manage, he was forced to hold the boy’s arm in his mouth so he could use both hands to remove the feces from his mouth.

On the morning of February 4, Bunger returned from one of a series of methadone treatments and could not wake Zakory. At approximately 8 a.m., he wrapped the boy in a blanket, put him in the back seat of his car, and left to obtain some heroin because he was “stressed out,” according to court records.

Later that day, he drove around looking for Zakory’s parents but dropped the boy off at the hospital after he could not locate them.

Bunger was formerly prescribed oxycontin for work-related back injuries and was undergoing regular treatment for addiction in Skagit County. Last week, Bunger’s girlfriend of 15 years said during the trial that he had started using heroin to relieve his back pain and the discomforts of oxycontin withdrawals.

On Tuesday, Bunger’s attorney, Michael J. Tario, asked Whatcom County Superior Court judge Ira Uhrig permission to examine evidence supporting abusive behavior towards the boy by Commissaris, the boy’s father.

Bunger, a long-time associate of Commissaris, said Tuesday that, on several occasions, Commissaris had become physically abusive toward both Seymour and Zakory.

One incident in particular, he recalled, involved him throwing Zakory across the deck of his boat while he and Seymour were fighting.
Bunger claims that he often babysat Zakory out of concern for his welfare but did not call Child Protective Services because he was concerned for his own safety.

“I was scared of Mike and what he might do,” Bunger said during the trial. “Not only for myself but I also have a family to raise. He had a violent reputation for snapping on people, and beating them up.”

Bunger also said that Commissaris had threatened himearlier that year by putting a gun in his mouth, and saying he would kill him if he caused him any problems, something that Commissaris, himself, admitted during an interview with Bunger’s attorney.

“We believe in this case that evidence of other wrong doings may be admissible,” said Bunger’s attorney. “If someone had stuck a gun in your mouth, I believe the jury needs to know that.”

Judge Uhrig said he would allow the introduction of such evidence.
“It is appropriate for these witnesses to testify as to the basis of (Bunger’s) fear,” he said. “This incident will be subject to full cross examination.”

Prosecutors say the trial could last until the end of the week.