Crime & Courts

SC woman charged with homicide in death of baby found in creek

Sarah Lane Toney
Sarah Lane Toney

Sarah Lane Toney was charged Monday with homicide by child abuse in connection with the death of her infant daughter, whose lifeless body was found last week in a Socastee creek, said Lt. Raul Denis of the Horry County Police Department.

Magistrate Judge Aaron Butler refused to release Toney on bond during an afternoon hearing, the second denial he has issued since Toney was initially arrested and charged with child neglect after her daughter’s disappearance last week.

The coroner’s office ruled Friday that Grace Carlson Santa Cruz’s death was a homicide, but it could be several more weeks before an autopsy determines the cause of death.

I feel pain and sadness that I never imagined existed.

Patrick Olberg, Grace’s father

The autopsy underway at the Medical University of South Carolina will determine whether “Baby Grace” drowned or was already dead when Toney carried the infant into the swift-running creek that feeds into the Intracoastal Waterway, said Deputy Coroner Darris Fowler.

Grace’s father, Patrick Olberg, thanked rescuers and law enforcement agencies Monday for their tireless efforts during last week’s search that lasted nearly three days.

“I am heartbroken over the devastating loss of my daughter, Grace,” Olberg said in a statement issued by the Maguire Law Firm. “I feel pain and sadness that I never imagined existed. I only hope and pray that Grace will not be forgotten.”

Police were called to the Shem Creek Circle neighborhood on the morning of Nov. 3 to investigate a report that Toney had gone into the water with a baby. The child’s body was discovered Thursday about 50 yards downstream.

“We have been touched and humbled by the overwhelming love and support shown by our neighbors, friends and volunteers who searched for Grace. I could never properly express my appreciation for all you have done,” Olberg said. “My family and I will be forever grateful for your support.”

“We would ask for privacy and continued compassion during this most difficult time,” Olberg said.

Facebook groups called “Prayers for Baby Grace” and “Candlelight Vigil for Baby Grace” are planning to hold a candlelight vigil at 6 p.m. Sunday, however the location of the event has not been set.

Judge Butler denied Toney’s bond request on the homicide charge Monday because the severity of the crime requires that it be considered on the circuit court level, said Sgt. Sherri Smith, with the Horry County Sheriff's Office.

Toney showed little emotion during last week’s court hearing as she described her actions to Butler in a calm voice.

“I went into the water with her and was unable to hold on to her. I didn’t intentionally put her in any danger. I was going with her and I wasn’t able to hold on to her when the water sucked me in,” Toney said.

Staff reporter Elizabeth Townsend contributed to this report.

Audrey Hudson 843-444-1765 @AudreyHudson