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Mother’s prosecution shows ‘tragedy on top of tragedy’


Wednesday, December 30, 2015, 5:49 PM

Parents who put their babies in unsafe sleeping positions risk criminal charges in addition to their children’s lives, experts say.

A Northern Virginia woman pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and child neglect after police said she accidentally suffocated her 4-month-old baby boy when she swaddled him for a nap and put him in a makeshift bed, The Washington PostreportedMonday.

The prosecution of Candice Semidey, 25, in the November 2014 death of little Jahari Jones shows the “sad and complicated situation” that is America’s annual 3,500 sudden and unexpected infant deaths, said Christopher Blake of education and advocacy group First Candle.

Blake has seen many parents charged in their children’s accidental deaths, as law enforcement agencies struggle with the “fine line between child abuse and an unpreventable SIDS [sudden infant death syndrome] tragedy,” he told the Daily News.

Experts caution never to place a baby face-down to go to sleep. iStock

Experts caution never to place a baby face-down to go to sleep. 

“In some cases it’s found to be neglect. In other cases, it’s a situation where those parents are facing this tragic situation after losing their baby and then, compounding that, they face charges in something they have nothing to do with,” said Blake, First Candle’s CEO. “It was tragedy on top of tragedy. And there was nothing they could have done differently.”

Over 3,400 American infants died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency defines SIDS as “the sudden death of an infant less than 1 year old that cannot be explained after a thorough investigation” and notes that accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed is the leading cause of infant death due to injury.

The rate of sudden and unexpected infant deaths has fallen, but America’s infant mortality rate of 6.1 deaths per 1,000 births places it 26th among developed countries, according to the CDC. Infants of non-Hispanic black mothers like Semidy suffered twice the death rate of infants of non-Hispanic white mothers in 2013.

“For a lot of the families that we work with, there’s no education about sleep safety,” Blake said. “A lot of it is just sort of based on what you think is best. What parent doesn’t worry about what it means to swaddle and how to do it right?”

The CDC has noted disparities among races in infant mortality rates.National Center for Health Statistics

The CDC has noted disparities among races in infant mortality rates.

Semidey swaddled Jahari in a blanket then placed him face-down on top of a chair cushion and another blanket on Nov. 8, 2014, in her Woodbridge home, said Prince William County Police Sgt. Jonathan Perok. Semidey fell asleep herself, then alerted police after she awoke and found the boy unconscious, Perok said.

“This particular death isn’t just about the child being placed on his stomach, but the totality of the circumstances of the condition he was placed in,” Perok told the Daily News in an email. “Those conditions caused the infant to essentially suffocate since he was unable to move.”

Semidey was arrested in January and pleaded guilty in July, county court records show. A judge sentenced her to a five-year suspended prison term, which she’ll only serve if she doesn’t complete her three years of probation. There was no answer or voicemail Wednesday at a number listed as her home phone number.

Health experts advise parents to always place babies on their back to sleep, ensure soft objects like pillows and extra bedding aren’t in the crib and avoid sleeping in the same bed as the baby.

“The risk is always there,” Blake said. “From a parent’s point of view, you just have to know what the best practices are.”

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