Pinellas authorities investigating death of girl, 5, in foster care

tkra3000[1]CLEARWATER--Two weeks ago, child protection investigators removed 5-year-old Elizabeth Holder from her home after she was found running around a Clearwater mobile home park while her mother was under the influence of methadone, Percocet, marijuana and the anti-depressants Wellbutrin and Celexa, according to authorities and court records.

Eight days later, Elizabeth, by now in foster care, was sitting on a couch in Dunedin watching television with her two-year-old sister and some other children when she clutched her head in pain, crying out, "It hurts. It hurts. It hurts." Then she fell limp and died.

No one knows yet what killed the little girl. There's no doubt she was a victim of a bureaucratic oversight.

Within 72 hours after she and her sister Kayla were taken from Unit 419 in the Gulf to Bay Mobile Home Park, each was supposed to undergo a medical screening, in accordance with state law. But, while appointments had been set up for each child, the screenings themselves did not take place within the three-day period, as required.

The person whose responsibility it was to set up the screenings was a family support worker employed by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. Since 1999, the sheriff has contracted with the Florida Department of Children and Families to handle all child protection cases in Pinellas.

On Thursday, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri held a press conference on Holder's death in what is arguably his first scandal since he was elected in November. He gave a chronology of the events leading up to Holder's death, and took full responsibility.

"This falls squarely on me," Gualtieri said. "This falls squarely on us at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.".

"It's inexcusable and it's not going to happen again.".

The family support worker, who was not identified, contacted St. Petersburg Pediatrics and arranged for a screening for Elizabeth for Jan. 22 and one for Kayla on Jan. 24, way past the three-day threshold, Gualtieri said. The worker also called the Pinellas County Health Department, and listed to a phone message as to when appointments were available, but never followed up.

Gualtieri was careful not to lay all of the blame on the family support worker. He said she didn't receive a form directing her to set up the appointment until Jan. 14, by which time the 72 hours had elapsed or were about to. It was unclear whether the child protection investigator in charge of the case, or a supervisory sergeant, was aware of the appointment made for Elizabeth.

At the same time, there may have been some institutional confusion over the 72-hour deadline, the sheriff said.

When the sheriff's office, which removes children from troubled homes, contracted with Eckerd Community Alternatives, which places them in foster care, it was agreed that the sheriff's office would handle the medical screenings before the children were placed.

The language in the contract is different from the law, Gualtieri said. The contract stipulates the sheriff's office has to "initiate" the medical screening within 72 hours, as opposed to getting it completed, which is what the law stipulates.

At the mobile home park, Elizabeth Holder lived with her sister, her mother, Stephanie Judah, 34, who doesn't work, and her father, Corey Holder, 29, a tree trimmer, according to authorities and neighbors.

Matthew Galvan, who lives next door to the family, said Elizabeth was running around the neighborhood while her mother went to a drug store with Kayla. Galvan said he kept on trying to put Elizabeth back in her trailer, but she kept escaping. Several people in the mobile home park called police.

The neighbors brought Elizabeth back to her mobile home, and confronted Judah, Galvan said. Judah complained, "How am I supposed to watch both of my children when I have to look after the baby," Galvan said.

When sheriff's deputies arrived, Judah admitted to having purchased illegal narcotics on the street three days previously-- methadone, Percocet, and marijuana-- and that she had taken all three the day Elizabeth was running around. Judah also admitted to taking the anti-depressants Wellbutrin and Celexa.

She claimed she had prescriptions for the anti-depressants, but couldn't provide the bottles, according to police records. She was arrested on a charge of child neglect, and was released from the Pinellas County Jail a few days later after posting $ 5,000 bail.

The children's father, Corey Holder, then arrived home, but authorities didn't believe they could leave the children in his care because he, too, was under the influence of non-prescribed prescription drugs, and he was also drunk, Gualtieri said. A decision was made to put the two children in foster care, and they ended up in a foster home in Clearwater.

On Jan. 18, the foster parent had an obligation, and brought Elizabeth and her sister to a babysitter in Dunedin, Gualtieri said, and the sisters spent the night. The next day, Elizabeth played and ate as all children would, but then clutched her head at roughly 4 p.m. while watching television.

The sheriff said the girl had developmental issues-- she still wasn't toilet trained. And Galvan, the neighbor, said Elizabeth sometimes frothed at the mouth. He said both Elizabeth and her sister were born with methadone in their system.

An autopsy was conducted, but the sheriff doesn't expect the results to be available for 60 to 90 days because of toxicology tests. There was no sign of trauma on the girl's body, no sign of physical injury.

Gualtieri said he may never know whether a medical screening would have detected something, and Elizabeth's life could have been saved.

"This is our failure," the sheriff said. "I can only hope that failure did not contribute to her death.".

Polygamous community resident says he’s a fit foster parent

KINGMAN, Ariz. - A homeowner of the polygamous neighborhood of Colorado City states he is offended by objection he is unfit to be a foster father.

Dan Wayman, who is looking after 3 boys as a foster parent, responded to Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson, who said no kids ought to be put in the northern Arizona border area.

Johnson said ladies and children there are methodically abused by the polygamous society advertised by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

He released statements Jan. 10 blasting Arizona Child Protective Services for placing foster kids in the isolated enclave about 160 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

Johnson is using up the cause of an 11-year-old boy from Lake Havasu City who is under the care of Wayman, an Arizona certified foster dad who is also caring for a 9-year-old boy from Kingman and a 15-year-old boy from Bullhead City.

Johnson stated he has likewise contacted Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and Attorney General Tom Horne, telling them that the state is putting kids in a society he considers unfit and backward.

Johnson said foster children are destined fail in a community where they can't go to the shopping mall or theater.

"B.S." Wayman stated. "I take my children to the motion pictures all the time ... We just went last week and a few of the boys saw and went 'The Hobbit.' It's 15 minutes away in Hurricane (neighboring Utah).".

Wayman stated his foster children play laser tag, delight in sports and hang around on computers, activities typically discredited by the polygamous church.

Arlene Sansevero said she is worried that her 11-year-old grand son has been placed in Colorado City with Wayman. The New York local in her mid-70s stated she cannot take care of the boy or his 13 - and 15-year-old brothers who are in foster care in Prescott, Ariz

. Sansevero said her son is a mental wellness client and that the boys' mom wants to care for the kids however has fought alcohol troubles and does not have sufficient real estate.

She said she's frightened that the youngest grand son lives in an area where underage ladies have actually been designated to older guys in "holy" polygamous marital relationships organized by imprisoned church prophet Warren Jeffs.

"I don't think any child ought to be sent out to Colorado City," Sansevero said. "It is a cult commune. It's not a good place.".

Wayman, 54, said he was wed to Warren Jeffs' sister and an additional lady and that they bore him 20 children throughout their time as an FLDS household. He said Jeffs removed him of his kids and wives nine years ago this month.

Jeffs is serving a life prison sentence in Texas where he was pronounced guilty of sexually attacking ladies 12 and 15 years of age.

Johnson questioned whether Wayman or any former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints can clear themselves of church belief and obedience. "You do not live in Colorado City unless you follow the tenets of the FLDS," Johnson said.

"That's an outright lie," Wayman fumed. "I have nothing to do with them. I do not recommend them and I despise exactly what they represent.".

Wayman said he has spent years reconstructing his life after being eliminated from his family and property. The machinist who works in the close-by neighborhood of Centennial Park said he earned his bachelor's degree in psychology last year to help him be a much better father and that he endured vigorous examination before state authorities granted him a license to be a foster parent.

"Believe me, they do a real good, extensive, complete review you. I imply background checks, fingerprint clearance, the whole works," Wayman stated. "I'm exactly what's called a foster-adopt house and I seek kids more that I would be willing to embrace.".

Johnson implied Wayman's interest in foster-fathering and embracing children was potentially encouraged by need of "constructing a workforce" in a community where child labor law infraction accusations have been investigated in the past.

"Absolutely not," Wayman reacted, denying that his interest is anything beyond offering a great home for kids in need. He stated he honed parenting abilities as the oldest child in a family with 11 siblings which working as a foster dad helps him handle the natural children he lost through church edict.

"I like the children," Wayman stated, noting one of his previous foster kids telephoned Sunday after learning about Johnson's remarks.

"He called me when he became aware of this and he says 'Dad, I have no idea exactly what they're talking about.' He says 'Colorado City was the best foster positioning I ever before had.' He says' I was happier there than I've ever before been in my life' and he's been in foster care since he was 7," Wayman stated.

Sansevero stated she has actually connected with Child Protective Services employees and been told that Wayman is a very rated foster dad. But she still criticizes the company for attempting to move children to foster homes far from the communities they call house.

"CPS, I think, is the greatest offender," Sansevero stated. "They're simply looking to empty their records of particular kids since they've been on the books too long and that was stated to me.

Administering Mohave County Superior Court Judge Charles Gurtler said balances and checks safeguarding the kids are built into the system. He kept in mind that there are lawyers and advocates selected to represent the best interests of foster kids and petition the court to step in when needed.

Judge Gurtler said children supporters and Child Protective Services staffers have primary authority which courts do not generally come to be involved in positioning issues and squabbles, unless celebrations request for an evidentiary hearing.

"The fact of the matter is that we have so couple of foster care homes, specifically for kids that are in their teens, that some of these placements are a long ways away and tough," Gurtler said. He stated contested child reliance matters are private and near the general public and that case files are sealed.

Brewer in recent years has required child welfare reforms and added resources for Child Protective Services. In her State of the State address at the opening of Arizona's 2013 legislative session in Phoenix on Jan. 14, she stated her brand-new budget plan proposition will include funding for 150 extra staffers for the child care agency.

The Child Protective Services officer who Sansevero stated was handling her grand son's case stated she was not at liberty to comment and she directed query to her manager.

Sherri Michel-Singer, the company's assistant program supervisor for Mohave County, said Tuesday she can't comment on individual cases or cases in general.

Michel-Singer said she might not indicate the amount of various other kids have been placed in foster care in Colorado City recently.

Wayman stated he comprehends there are a couple of various other foster homes in the community.