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Coroner: Rock Hill baby suffocated while sleeping in bed with father

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- Courtesy of Darlene Smith
Ja’Leyah White with Santa days before she died.

ROCK HILL Ja’Leyah White – the 3-month-old Rock Hill baby who survived her mother’s leap from a burning apartment in July while seven months pregnant with her – suffocated while sleeping in bed with her father in December, according to autopsy results released Tuesday.

The cause of death was asphyxia while co-sleeping in bed with an adult, York County Corner Sabrina Gast said. The baby had “no physical injuries that we could find,” she said, and the manner of death “could not be determined.” Toxicology tests on the baby were negative.

State social services officials had been investigating the family before Dec. 3, the day Ja’Leyah died, state officials confirmed in December, and a DSS agreement with the family dictated that Ja’Leyah was supposed to be under the care of a different family member.

Ja’Leyah was found unresponsive by her mother, Mandi Coley, late on Dec. 2 at Oak Hollow Apartments in Rock Hill, according to a police report. The baby had been in bed with her father, Samuel White, while Coley was at work, police said.

Coley told police that when she got home, she could not wake White and, after pounding on the door, she climbed in through a window. She found Je’Leyah was not breathing and called 911. White told police he had fed the baby and changed her diaper before both went to sleep in the bed around 7 p.m. Dec. 2, according to the police report.

Marilyn Matheus, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Social Services, declined to comment on the autopsy results Tuesday, but she did confirm that the DSS investigation into the family’s situation and Ja’Leyah’s death is continuing. The death has been under investigation for more than two months by DSS, the coroner’s office, and Rock Hill police.

The York County child fatality team made up of those agencies and prosecutors has reviewed the case, including the 911 call, Gast said, and produced a video re-enactment of the scene with the parties involved. The police investigation is ongoing.

Efforts to reach Coley and White for comment were unsuccessful Tuesday.

On July 2, a fire destroyed the building at Oak Hollow Apartments where Coley and White lived, displacing 28 people. A neighbor was later charged with arson and attempted murder after allegedly setting the fire. Both White and Coley, who was seven months pregnant with Ja’Leyah at the time, had to jump from the second floor to escape the fire.

Ja’Leyah was born two months later on Labor Day.

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065
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