Charges filed in tub death
Representatives of Indiana area social service agencies uncovered a pattern of parental supervision problems in a White Township home where a 13-month-old boy drowned in a bathtub earlier this month, according to criminal charges filed Tuesday by state police.
The home problems are one of the factors behind the arrests of the boy’s parents: Tonya Nicole Thomas, 25, who has been charged with one count each of criminal homicide, aggravated assault and recklessly endangering another person and three counts of endangering the welfare of children, and Wesley Allen Thomas, 24, who has been charged with three counts each of reckless endangerment and child-welfare endangerment.
The Thomases, of 96 Roush Drive, north of Indiana, are lodged at the Indiana County Jail.
The charges stem from the Feb. 2 death of Ryden Wesley Thomas, whose death initially had been listed by Indiana County Coroner Michael Baker as an accident due to freshwater drowning.
Investigators said Tonya Thomas bathed Ryden with his two siblings, ages 2 and 3, and allowed them to play in the water unattended while she left the bathroom to answer a text message from her mother, then went downstairs to get towels, Ryden’s nebulizer and a snack.
Tonya Thomas told police that she advised her husband to “keep an ear for the kids” while he played a video game in an adjoining bedroom.
She also told police she relied on her 3-year-old daughter to alert her of a problem: she “always yells if something is wrong. She is a tattletale,” Tonya Thomas told investigators, according to court papers.
But when she returned to the bathroom, about 7:54 that evening, police reported, Tonya Thomas found Ryden face down in the water and unresponsive. She began performing CPR on Ryden while Wesley Thomas phoned 911 for help; paramedics rushed Ryden to Indiana Regional Medical Center, where doctors pronounced him dead at 8:32 p.m., police reported.
In the weeks following Ryden’s death, state police “obtained numerous court orders to obtain both the victims various records and also any relevant records pertaining to both parents,” according to Trooper Josiah Murdock, who filed the charges.
As part of the probe, Murdock “retrieved numerous documents from Indiana County CYS (Children & Youth Services), Indiana CARE Center and several other agencies providing services to the accused … including parenting classes, etc. These reports showed an obvious pattern of concern, with one of the major concerns being lack of parental supervision.
“The children were reported to be in potentially hazardous situations numerous times, with a lack of supervision being the root cause,” Murdock wrote in the complaint charging Wesley Thomas.
In interviews with police, Tonya Thomas told investigators she may have left the children alone in the bathtub for five minutes and didn’t know why her daughter didn’t tell her something was wrong.
When Murdock asked if she thought a 3-year-old has the ability to recognize when someone is in distress in water, Tonya Thomas responded “no,” according to the affidavit. She further told Murdock that her presence could have prevented her son’s death and she felt responsible for the incident, court papers show.
“I asked Wesley if he could change one thing about that night, what would it have been. He responded, ‘I would have went into the room, or Tonya shouldn’t have gone downstairs,’” Murdock wrote in the affidavit.
Police took both for preliminary arraignment before the on-call District Judge Susanne Steffee, of Homer City, at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. Steffee sent both to Indiana County Jail: Tonya Thomas, without bail, and Wesley Thomas, with bond set at $50,000.
Preliminary hearings are scheduled for Monday.