About 50 law enforcement officers, firefighters and first responders from Liberty County and surrounding communities gathered at Savannah Technical College’s Liberty Campus to receive formal instructions on a new procedure being implemented statewide by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Beoncia Loveless, a GBI board-certified death investigator and child-abuse specialist, made the trip from Atlanta to Hinesville to provide the formal training May 6.
Liberty County Sheriff Steve Sikes and Liberty County Coroner Reginald Pierce said the training stemmed from a sudden rise in sleep-related infant deaths within the community and the GBI’s statewide approach to how they wish theses case be investigated.
“We’ve had about four or five sleep-related deaths, and it’s the first year we’ve had this many,” Pierce said.
In the past few cases, the cause of death was suffocation while sleeping and was not criminal, he said.
“The GBI is trying to implement something new where they want us to do a re-enactment on all infant deaths,” Pierce explained. “It’s designed to get a better understanding … things like what position the baby was in or how the baby was laying are re-created and videotaped using a baby doll … for the (medical examiner) seeing this evidence might even help in the autopsy process. Since they are trying to implement this statewide, it was easier for us to bring someone in and offer this course to law enforcement and first responders so we can all be on the same page.”
During her presentation, Loveless explained that there are various steps a medical examiner takes when investigating infant and child sleep-related deaths. She said many of the questions a medical examiner may pose to the family or law-enforcement investigators may seem trivial or unconnected. But she said the answers might provide a pattern or otherwise help the medical examiner develop the infant’s relatively short history.
Loveless said the first year of an infant’s life is an explosive year from a developmental perspective. She said there is a wide range of what is considered normal birth weights, but it is important to know when an infant birth weight is abnormal, as could be the case with a child who was a born prematurely. She said having an abnormal birth weight could be a contributing factor in some sleep-related deaths.
Loveless discussed the various stages of growth during a child’s first two years of life. She said the development of the child’s head and neck, the relation of weight gained to height grown and the child’s response to stimuli are important factors during an infant death investigation in determining whether it was accidental or caused by neglect and abuse.
The participants were taken through the step-by-step process on how to document and re-create a sleep-related death for investigation.
The training helps to establish whether the sleep-related death was accidental or criminal and could provide insight that would indicate a history of neglect or abuse.
“It is learning how to do the re-enactment the right way, and it was something we both felt we needed,” Sikes said, adding that he invited law-enforcement officers from across the state to attend the Liberty County workshop.