Father of slain California City toddler asks for justice

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Douglas "Rick" Van Vactor can't understand why someone would beat his son to death. His boy, 2-year-old Pharaoh Van Vactor, was found dead on a regional transit bus Wednesday morning in California City.

"The coroner called me today and told me my son was beaten, beaten to death," said Van Vactor via telephone on Thursday.

Sheriff's investigators arrested 26-year-old Mathew Berry in connection with the boy's death. Berry is the live-in boyfriend of the boy's mother, Adriana Brown.

Van Vactor and Brown are divorced and had shared custody of Pharaoh, said Van Vactor.

Van Vactor said the last time he saw his son was 4:30 a.m. Sunday when Berry and his ex-wife drove to his Los Angeles-area home to pick up the toddler. Van Vactor said his ex-wife told him that on Tuesday afternoon that she let Berry take Pharaoh with him.

"I don't understand the whole story, but they were supposed to get some tools and go to his job and go get ice cream and only be gone for a couple of hours," said Van Vactor.

But, Brown started to worry when the pair did not return, and Van Vactor said Brown told him Berry's truck had developed some problems.

"Supposedly, his truck got stuck in the desert," recalled Van Vactor. "She told me that she kept calling him and that he wasn't answering his phone or answering her texts."

According to Kern County sheriff's investigators, a bus driver spotted Berry and the boy on the side of a roadway on Wednesday. The driver stopped and asked if they needed assistance.

Berry boarded the bus carrying the toddler and then told the driver that the boy was not breathing. Medical aid was called, and the child was pronounced dead.

The coroner's office ruled the 2-year-old died due to blunt force trauma, and his death was a homicide.

Van Vactor said he did not know Berry that well. Eyewitness News asked him what impression he had formed of the man who was in close contact with his son.

"Not one of a murderer," answered Van Vactor. "He told me he could see how close me and Pharaoh were and he would never do anything to try to take my place or come between me and my baby."

Van Vactor said he received a voice mail message from Berry that was still on his phone. In the message, Berry talked about Pharaoh.

"He's safe with me bro, I promise you that. I won't let nothing happen to your boy, man," said Berry on the phone message.