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    Boy's family blames his death on the DCF

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 12, 2002

    ST. PETERSBURG -- Four-year-old Shamar Jones couldn't talk, walk, hear, or feed himself. He breathed through a tube in his throat.

    Through it all, Shamar was bright and affectionate.

    He grinned widely and loved to touch and kiss family members' faces. Unable to stand on his own, he rigged a way to get out of bed by hurling a Teletubbies or Bugs Bunny pillow onto the floor and plopping overboard.

    Last month, arguing that Shamar's own family was interfering with his medical care, the state removed Shamar from his home and placed him in a foster care facility in Pasco County that was licensed by the Department of Children and Families.

    Last week, Shamar died there, apparently after a problem with his breathing tube.

    His family is devastated and angry.

    "I had him for four years," said his grandmother Jerlene White, 53, who was raising Shamar. "They had him for a month and six days and he's dead."

    Shamar's mother, 23-year-old Teresa White, said her son did not deserve to die.

    "He didn't do anything wrong," she said. "He was my heart. That's something you can't fix."

    The state is investigating the circumstances surrounding Shamar's death in the foster home in Lutz, where the foster parents were specially licensed and trained to care for medically needy children.

    "It's a tragedy," said DCF spokeswoman Shawnna Lee. "It appears that the child died because of a medical complication and not because of any maltreatment."

    But the Whites said whoever looked after Shamar should have known the proper medical procedures for reinserting the tube that went into Shamar's trachea to help him breathe.

    "If you can't get a (tube) back in, you are supposed to start CPR," Teresa White said. "They should know there's a protocol for you to follow."

    Shamar had a series of medical problems. His family also has a history in the child welfare system.

    DCF officials gave the following account of Shamar's death:

    On Thursday, Shamar stopped breathing. The foster mother in the Lutz foster home, who is a nurse, thought the breathing tube that went into Shamar's trachea was clogged. The foster mother removed the tube and tried to insert another breathing tube, but she could not get the tube into Shamar's trachea.

    The foster parents called 911. Paramedics arrived and tried to insert a breathing tube. They performed CPR and took Shamar to University Community Hospital in Tampa, where the boy died.

    "It appears that they did everything that they could," said Lynn Richard, regional administrator for DCF. "There will be a medical inquiry . . . to look into what the issues were."

    Shamar's medical history includes a condition called Treacher Collins Syndrome, which led to his breathing difficulties, plus strokes and bacterial meningitis, according to family members.

    His ears were not fully formed, and he could not walk. Jerlene White says she and doctors called him a "wet noodle," because he could not stand up on his own.

    Nurses looked after him daily in his room, which was filled with Big Bird, Elmo, Pikachu and Mickey Mouse stuffed animals. He ate baby food, but could not feed himself. Yet he was intelligent, and loved to kiss the Whites and stroke their faces.

    His mother, Teresa White, says Shamar was first taken from her as an infant because she took him out of the hospital a day early. He was placed in the home of his grandmother, Jerlene White, with supervision from DCF and a judge.

    But more complaints surfaced about the family.

    Jerlene White says the nurses who cared for Shamar complained to authorities that she was drinking excessively. She says she sometimes had a drink, especially when nurses were there to look after Shamar, but denies it was excessive.

    She said 11 or 12 complaints were called in about her. At one point, Shamar was removed from her, put in foster care, and later returned.

    Marianne Pasha, spokeswoman for the Pinellas Sheriff's Office, said government officials took Shamar for several reasons.

    White was interfering with the nurses who came from Child Medical Services, a state government agency, to care for Shamar, officials said.

    "She was becoming increasingly uncooperative with the nursing staff, to the point where she was telling them to leave," Pasha said. "We tried to get her to meet us halfway -- keep the child in the home, cooperate with the nursing staff. But she was uncooperative."

    The Sheriff's Office also received several complaints about "erratic" behavior by White, including complaints that White had neglected or slapped Shamar.

    In addition, Shamar's mother, who was under court order to have no unsupervised contact with Shamar, was living in the same home with the boy and his grandmother, Pasha said.

    But his mother, Teresa White, says the problem was that nurses visited Shamar only eight hours a day, instead of the 12 or 24 they were supposed to.

    "I would have to come down here and take care of Shamar," she said. "They said as long as my mother was here, that was fine."

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