Child welfare probe already under way when Rock Hill baby died

adys@heraldonline.comDecember 9, 2013 

The state Department of Social Services had begun investigating the family of 3-month-old Ja’Leyah White – and the baby had been placed into the care of another family member – before she died in bed with her father last week, state officials said Monday.

It remains unclear who that other family member was and why that person was not watching Ja’Leyah at the time of her death on Dec. 2.

DSS officials would not say why the agency was investigating Ja’Leyah’s immediate family or why social workers mandated that another family member care for Ja’Leyah while DSS looked into conditions in the home.

“We are shocked and saddened by the death of Ja’Leyah,” DSS spokeswoman Marilyn Matheus said. “We join the community in grieving her loss. Our agency continues to work with local officials to learn about the circumstances surrounding her death.”

Emergency workers were called to Ja’Leyah’s parent’s apartment at Oak Hollow Apartments in Rock Hill just before midnight Dec. 2. Her father, Samuel Lee White, told police that the baby had been asleep in bed with him since around 7 p.m.

The baby’s mother, Mandi Coley, told police she came home from work around 11:30 p.m. and found the baby unresponsive. Coley told police she could not wake Samuel White by pounding on the door, so she had to climb in through a window.

In July, White and Coley, who was seven months pregnant with Ja’Leyah, jumped from a second-floor balcony to escape a fire at another Oak Hollow apartment. The baby was born two months later.

Ja’Leyah’s death is now being investigated by DSS, Rock Hill police detectives, and investigators from the York County Coroner’s Office. The county’s child fatality team also is expected to launch a probe this week.

The coroner’s office has conducted an autopsy but results are incomplete, and officials have not determined a cause or manner of death.

A woman called 911 on Nov. 18 to ask for a welfare check at White’s and Coley’s apartment, said Executive Officer Mark Bollinger, spokesman for the Rock Hill Police Department. Before officers arrived, the same woman called back and reported that everyone in the apartment was OK.

Officers went to the home anyway, spoke to someone inside and found no problems, Bollinger said.

The police investigation continues, Bollinger said, pending toxicology results from the autopsy and other testing.

“There isn’t any timetable as to when this might be completed,” Bollinger said.

DSS officials declined to say how long its investigators had been looking at the family, or why they were involved in the first place.

Matheus did say the investigation now includes the family circumstances before and at the time she died. DSS investigations do not always require that a child be removed from a home, she said.

Only police and the courts have the authority to take emergency protective custody of a child, Matheus said. DSS does not have the authority to order a child removed.

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065

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