Dads Against the Divorce Industry

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For The Children?

Friday, April 11, 2003

Sleeping mother smothers 2nd baby

Pontiac woman accused of rolling on daughter after drinking; she did same to infant in 2000

PONTIAC -- A woman who smothered her infant son when she rolled onto him in her sleep three years ago faces second-degree murder charges for the nearly identical death of another baby in December.

A jury will determine whether Taria Renee Anderson, 24, created a dangerous situation when she drank alcohol and smoked marijuana, then slept with her 6-month-old daughter, Taniyah Anderson, in December 2002. The 275-pound woman crushed the baby when she rolled on top of her during the night, Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca said Thursday.

"She already killed one child this way," he said. "Despite multiple warnings and the first death, the defendant again chose to sleep in the same bed with an infant."

Child overlay deaths, caused when an adult rolls onto a child and smothers the child, occur with disturbing frequency. Oakland County has had 21 such cases since 2000, while Wayne County had 14 cases in 2002 alone.

Oakland County's most recent incident, its first of 2003, occurred Tuesday night in White Lake Township, said Ljubisa J. Dragovic, Oakland County medical examiner. In that case, the mother and father went to sleep with their newborn in their bed, and one of the parents rolled onto the child.

Nationwide, 515 infants suffocated in adult beds from January 1990 to December 1997, according to the most recent statistics from the U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Of those 515 babies, 121 died from confirmed overlays.

Those national numbers may be under reported. Experts say overlay and other infant suffocations in the past may have been erroneously classified as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Public health professionals in recent years have focused on determining a more specific cause of infant deaths.

"In 1999, we began seeing a trend. Babies were dying due to unsafe sleeping," said Sandra Frank, executive director of Tomorrow's Child, formerly the Michigan SIDS Alliance, and member of the Child Death Review State Advisory Team. "Families just don't know the risks."

Mother warned

Anderson in Pontiac did not face charges for smothering her 18-month-old son, Terrance Hollins, in May 2000, though toxicology reports showed she had been drinking. Anderson also admitted smoking marijuana before going to bed with the child.

The woman had been advised against sleeping with her son prior to his death, Gorcyca said.

Taniyah's death, coupled with Terrance's death, shows a pattern of irresponsibility and harmful neglect of her children, Gorcyca said.

Prosecutors often apply second-degree murder charges when there is an intent to kill, but the law also applies when someone "knowingly created a very high risk of death or great bodily harm knowing that death or high risk of injury would be the likelihood of the actions," according to James Halushka, assistant prosecutor for Oakland County.

"There's no question she knew the dangers," he said.

The investigation leading to Anderson's arrest Wednesday lasted four months, largely due to toxicology tests needed to determine the amount of marijuana in her system, Halushka said. Tests showed Anderson had a .11 blood alcohol level the morning her child was found dead. The tests also showed she had smoked marijuana within the previous 12 to 18 hours.

Toxicology reports also showed baby Taniyah had five times the adult dosage of cough medicine and a high level of Tylenol in her body when she died.

"There was a party going on inside the house that night, and we believe she was trying to keep the child sedated and quiet," Halushka said.

Mother drank, smoked pot

Police and toxicology reports show Anderson went to bed with Taniyah at 3 a.m. on Dec. 11 after drinking beer, rum and smoking marijuana. At 3:50 a.m., her boyfriend discovered the baby face-down underneath Anderson's thigh; the boyfriend told police he had difficulty waking Anderson.

It is not known whether the boyfriend was also the child's father.

"It was obvious there was alcohol involved," said Joyce Gulley, a family services counselor at the Oakland County Medical Examiner's Office, who met with Anderson at the hospital the morning Taniyah died.

"There was a lot of confusion. She had a lot of questions about relating the initial experience with the current experience," Gulley said, adding Anderson was tearful and confused at the hospital.

Anderson on Monday lost custody of her oldest child, a 6-year-old daughter, when she pleaded guilty to neglect, Gorcyca said. That child lives with her maternal grandmother.

Anderson told police she was employed and had sought alcohol and drug abuse counseling, but that she had stopped the counseling when she lost insurance, said Pontiac Detective Mike Herrgott.

Anderson is in the Oakland County Jail on a $250,000 bond. She is scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing on April 24 before Judge Leo Bowman in 50th District Court in Pontiac.

You can reach Amy Lee (248) 647-8605 or at

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