Crime & Courts

Man gets nearly 49 years for beating death of toddler who didn’t eat hotdog

A 26-year-old Wichita man involved in the beating death of a toddler boy who reportedly wouldn’t eat a hotdog was sentenced Tuesday to nearly 49 years in prison.

Lucas Diel, who was the boyfriend of 2-year-old Tony Bunn’s mother, pleaded guilty last month to second-degree intentional murder in the child’s May 2018 killing. Tony’s mother, Elizabeth Woolheater, is still awaiting trial on a charge of first-degree premeditated murder.

Tony died on May 6, 2018, after spending two days in a Wichita hospital. His mother told a police detective that she “lost it” when Tony refused to swallow pieces of hotdog, slapped him across the face and hit him again while Diel held the food in the boy’s mouth, according to an affidavit released in the case. She told the detective that she heard Diel hitting Tony repeatedly after she left the room and saw her son with a bleeding and swollen face, a broken front tooth and a cut on his lip when she returned.

Diel, meanwhile, denied touching the boy that morning and told police that Tony was injured falling out of bed. But several small cuts on Diel’s knuckles raised investigators’ suspicions.

Tony’s autopsy report showed other injuries that pointed to a pattern of abuse, including a broken nose, arm and rib and bruises on his face, back, stomach and buttocks. Records show his abuse was reported to the state’s child welfare agency seven months before he died but the Department for Children and Families didn’t follow through on key steps that might have saved him.

Tony had the same DCF social worker as 3-year-old Evan Brewer, the Wichita boy whose body was encased in concrete following months of horrific and ultimately fatal abuse doled out by his mother and her boyfriend.

District Judge Jeff Syrios ordered Diel to serve 48 years, 10 months in prison during a Tuesday afternoon hearing, according to Sedgwick County District Court records.

Woolheater’s trial is scheduled for Sept. 9.

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Amy Renee Leiker has been reporting for The Wichita Eagle since 2010. She covers crime, courts and breaking news and updates the newspaper’s online databases. You can reach her at 316-268-6644. She’s an avid reader and mom of three in her non-work time.