Prosecutors presented new evidence at a preliminary hearing Monday that showed an Indiana County woman had been warned multiple times about properly supervising her children months before her 13-month old son drowned in a bathtub in February.
Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty said the Care Center of Indiana County had expressed concern to Tonya Thomas, 26, about water safety eight months before her son died.
State police in Indiana said at the time of her arrest that Ms. Thomas left her son Ryden and his 2- and 3-year-old siblings alone in the bathtub while she went downstairs to do laundry, text on her phone, get snacks and medicine. When she returned, Ryden was face down in the water and she began CPR.
Prosecutors plan to argue Ms. Thomas was "reckless" in support of a criminal homicide charge, Mr. Dougherty said.
And even though District Judge Susanne V. Steffee originally dismissed a criminal homicide and aggravated assault charge against Ms. Thomas at a hearing in May, the charges were re-filed and held for court Monday -- meaning the judge thought there was enough evidence for those charges to go to trial.
Mr. Dougherty said there had initially been some confusion over whether the lesser homicide charge could be substantiated on the basis of "recklessness" as opposed to malice.
"At no point along the way have we ever asserted that she intentionally drowned the child," he said.
Bradley Ophaug, the lawyer representing Ms. Thomas, said his client was "overcharged" and that the incident was a "tragic accident," not a homicide.
"I don't believe she was reckless. I don't think she's capable of being reckless in this regard," Mr. Ophaug said. He declined to comment on Ms. Thomas' mental state.
A part of Mr. Ophaug's defense will be a contention that the Care Center of Indiana County and Indiana County Children and Youth Services should have done more to intervene.
"The care center did not take the necessary steps while knowing she lacked the supervising skills," he said.
Ms. Thomas, who is out on bond and gave birth to another child in June, is also charged with reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor, and three counts of endangering the welfare of children, which are felonies, Mr. Dougherty said.
Ms. Thomas' husband, Wesley Thomas, is charged with endangering the welfare of children and reckless endangerment and is awaiting trial, according to court records.
Alex Zimmerman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3909 or on Twitter @AGZimmerman First Published August 5, 2013 12:45 AM