Indiana, PA - Indiana County

Mom pleads guilty in bathtub drowning

by on January 09, 2014 11:00 AM

A 26-year-old mother accused in the accidental bathtub drowning of her son has pleaded guilty, averting a trial that was set to begin later this month.

Under a plea agreement with the Indiana County District Attorney’s office, Tonya N. Thomas, of Clarksburg, pleaded guilty to a felony count of recklessly endangering the welfare of a child and a misdemeanor count involuntary manslaughter.

In exchange, prosecutors have dropped the other criminal charges against Thomas and are recommending that she be allowed to serve her sentences concurrently. If she is ordered to serve consecutive sentences, she could face a maximum of 12 years in prison.

Thomas stood accused of gross negligence in the death of her 13-month-old son, Ryden, who drowned in their White Township home on Feb. 2.

According to state police in Indiana, Thomas had left the boy, along with his 2- and 3-year-old siblings, sitting unattended in the tub while she stepped away to take care of some other chores, thinking that her 3-year-old would alert her to anything wrong.

Police said that at one point, Thomas walked by the bathroom, but saw only two heads above the bathtub. Yet, police said, she did not investigate further.

When she did finally look in on the children, she found Ryden face down in the water, police said. She then began performing CPR while her husband, Wesley, called for help. The boy was taken to Indiana Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

Wesley Thomas, 25, also had been charged with reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of children in the case. He, too, pleaded guilty under an agreement with prosecutors and was sentenced in November.

He was sentenced to three months to two years in jail, plus probation.

Thomas entered her plea Thursday morning before Indiana County Judge Thomas Bianco and wept as prosecutors read a summary of the case against her.

District Attorney Patrick Dougherty said he believes the plea agreement is a fair resolution of the case. He said the contention never was that Thomas intentionally caused her son’s death. She was, however, negligent, he said.

Dougherty said the incident is a tragedy and goes to show that parents absolutely must be vigilant when caring for their children.

Thomas was represented by Indiana County Public Defender’s office. Assistant public defender Bradley Ophaug said Thomas accepted the deal because she couldn’t bear reliving the incident in court.

“Tonya did not want to relive the tragic, accidental death of her son. She wanted to move forward with the grieving process,” Ophaug said.

Thomas is to be sentenced on March 31.



Sam Kusic is a staff writer for The Indiana Gazette.
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