Man accused of drowning his children

A family photo shows Steven Nicholson, 27, sitting with his two children,15-month-old Ella Stafford (left) and 13-month-old Jonathon Sanderlin, during a Fourth of July celebration. Nicholson was charged Friday with drowning his two children early Tuesday.

Photos by Chris Jackett

Photos by Chris Jackett

Detective Lt. James Wilkewitz (right) speaks to the media and family members Tuesday afternoon as Director of Public Safety Dean Tamsen stands nearby. Allen Park police on Thursday filed charges with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, which approved them Friday morning.

Sunday Times Newspapers

ALLEN PARK – A 27-year-old resident is charged with drowning his two toddlers in scalding hot bath water.

Steven Nicholson, a Melvindale native, called 911 about 2:15 a.m. Tuesday to tell police his two children, 15-month-old Ella Stafford and 13-month-old Jonathon “Cash” Sanderlin, had drowned in the bath tub.

“There was water in the apartment. The caller stated his two children had drowned in the bath tub,” Detective Lt. James Wilkewitz said Tuesday. “We’re still collecting all the evidence at the scene. At this point, I would say this is a death investigation. Any time children are involved, it’s very hard on us.”

Nicholson told police the children had gotten out of their two cribs and turned the water on by themselves, but water from the tubs was so excessive that it flooded Nicholson’s apartment and spilled into a nearby laundry room and two other apartments in the basement level of Valley Spring Apartments, 11331 Old Goddard Road.

The father of two was kept in police custody Tuesday through Thursday before charges were approved by the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office on Friday morning. He was arraigned later the same morning.

Nicholson was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, a felony punishable by life in prison; two counts of felony murder, a felony punishable by life without parole in prison; and two counts of first-degree child abuse, a felony punishable by 15 years in prison.

“The alleged facts in this case have affected even the most seasoned prosecutors in this office,” Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a statement Friday. “We stand ready to bring this case to justice in a court of law.”

The Wayne County Medical Examiner’s lab determined the two children died from both drowning and the scalding hot water that burned off their skin.

A Tuesday night candlelight vigil took place in Melvindale for Ella, with her mother, Tayler Stafford, 19, and other family members in attendance. Tayler Stafford shared custody of Ella with Nicholson.

At the same time as Ella’s vigil, a separate candlelight vigil was held Tuesday night for Jonathon at Champaign Park in Allen Park. Jonathon’s mother, Sarah McGee, who gave Nicholson full custody of Jonathon before moving to Cadillac, also returned to the area after news of the death reached her.

Residents of the complex said they have seen Nicholson verbally abuse the children in the past and one resident, 43-year-old Jeweley Peters, even called police over the summer when Nicholson left the two children sitting alone in his van.

Family members told the media that Nicholson had been laid off from a bricklaying job this year.

Melvindale Detective Cpl. David Taft said Nicholson has a long list of problems in his hometown, but the deaths of the two toddlers came five years, one month and two days after the death of Nicholson’s 16-year-old brother, Luke Nicholson, who died of a drug overdose.

(Contact Chris Jackett at