Father charged in Rock Hill baby's death was 'grossly intoxicated,' police say

02/03/2014 9:12 AM

02/04/2014 7:07 AM

The father of Ja’Leyah White, the 3-month-old baby who suffocated in December while in bed with him after surviving a jump from a burning building while her mother was pregnant with her, was denied bond Monday after being arrested for homicide by child neglect.

Ja’Leyah suffocated in bed with Samuel White, whom police say was “grossly intoxicated on alcohol and marijuana” when Ja’Leyah died gasping for breath in bed.

The charge carries up to life in prison if White, 25 is convicted of neglecting Ja’Leyah the night she died. White allegedly was the sole caregiver for the baby at the time Ja’Leyah died.

A convicted felon on probation at the time of his daughter’s death, White said nothing in court Monday when the charges were explained to him other than to tell Judge Jane Modla he would hire his own lawyer to fight the charges.

White, who had previous fast-food jobs at restaurants including Zaxby’s, also said nothing as Modla read to him the charges that allege he had “extreme indifference to human life” – his own daughter.

Probation officials “have a hold” on White and could pursue an arrest warrant alleging that White’s arrest on the child homicide violates terms of his five-year probation, said Pete O’Boyle, spokesman for the S.C. Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services.

If White attempts to make bond in the death of his daughter, probation officials will likely ask for a hearing to convince a judge to have White’s probation revoked and have him serve the three-year sentence suspended in February 2013.

White was convicted last year for assault and battery, records from the State Law Enforcement Division show. Before that, he was sentenced under youthful offender status to a six-year term that was suspended after White served 280 days in jail following his conviction on burglary charges in 2008.

India Blanding, Ja’Leyah’s godmother and a co-worker of Mandi Coley, Ja’Leyah’s mother, at Bojangles’, cried after she learned of White’s arrest, saying that Ja’leyah was a beautiful child and that she and others who loved Ja’Leyah had been waiting two months for police to finish the investigation. It was “a miracle” that Ja’Leyah was born on Labor Day after Coley had to jump from the fire while seven months pregnant, Blanding said.

“Ja’Leyah was a beautiful baby and this never should have happened,” Blanding said.

White was alone taking care of Ja’Leyah on Dec. 2 despite being barred from having sole caregiver custody of Ja’Leyah because of a previous incident that had prompted a S.C. Department of Social Services investigation that was supposed to require Ja’Leyah to be under the care of another family member at times when Coley was at work.

After court, Coley had an emotional hallway discussion with the victim’s advocate from the Rock Hill Police Department outside the courtroom but declined to comment to The Herald about the father of her child facing the potential of life in prison for allegedly being drunk and high when Ja’Leyah died.

The arrest of White on Sunday after two months of investigation comes after The Herald first reported Jan. 28 that York County Coroner Sabrina Gast ruled that Ja’leyah had suffocated but had no other injuries. The Herald also first reported Dec. 6, just three days after Ja’Leyah’s death, that DSS had already been involved with the family. It remains unclear which family member was supposed to be watching Ja’Leyah the night she died. DSS officials were aware of the arrest Monday but declined immediate comment.

Ja’Leyah died after Coley came home from working a double shift at Bojangles’ and Wal-Mart and could not get in the apartment she shared with White at Oak Hollow Apartments in Rock Hill – just two buildings away from where the couple had escaped a July fire by leaping from a second-floor balcony. White would not answer the door that night, Coley told police, so Coley had to climb in through the window where she found the baby on her stomach, cold and unresponsive.

After Ja’Leyah died, many neighbors at the apartment complex were furious with White after allegedly seeing him Dec. 2 outside the apartment. Another neighbor, Joe Williams, had raised money for the baby’s burial costs and was devastated in December when Ja’Leyah died. Williams said he had heard neighbors talk about Samuel White being “out here drunk” before the baby died.

“That precious baby depended on adults to take care of her and that didn’t happen,” Williams said. “She is in heaven now: She can’t be hurt anymore.”

Police have not released witness statements, but arrest warrants say that witness statements and White’s own statements to police are part of the case against him.

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 original police report.

At the hospital, Samuel White was taken into protective custody after arguing with police and screaming and sobbing uncontrollably, police said.

White also submitted to toxicology tests Dec. 3. The results were not made public Monday but Mark Bollinger, spokesman for the Rock Hill Police Department, said the intoxication from both alcohol and drugs were part of the arrest.

The York County child fatality team made up of police, prosecutors, coroner’s officials and social services investigators also reviewed the case and produced a video re-enactment of the scene.

White’s mother told police the day of Ja’Leyah’s death that Samuel White was bipolar and had not taken medication for his condition.

Samuel White’s sister, reached at home, declined to comment on her brother’s arrest.

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