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Middletown woman charged in December 2016 death of her infant son

District Attorney Ed Marsico speaks at a news conference on Thursday in Harrisburg about the death of a baby in Middletown last December.
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By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

The tragic death of a 2-month, 5-day old infant in Middletown in December 2016 is being used by Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico as a way to warn parents and adults of the danger that can result from them sleeping with children.

The county has formed a task force out of concern over what Marsico described as a rising number of tragic incidents resulting from “co-sleeping,” the DA said during a press conference on Thursday, May 25, following the arrest earlier the same day of Arrisa Katelyn Ward, 23.

Ward has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of children following an investigation that was conducted following the death of her infant son on Dec. 30, 2016, in their residence in the 300 block of Lawrence Street.

Ward told police that she had been drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana before lying down on the couch with her son, according to court papers Middletown police have filed with District Justice David Judy.

Ward told police that she thought she had rolled over on the boy, according to the court papers.

The boy had marijuana in his system and his death was caused by complications of traumatic asphyxia combined with smothering, according to results of an autopsy that was conducted in January, police said.

Ward was arraigned before Judy on May 25, and was released after posting $50,000 bail. Her preliminary hearing is set for June 1 before Judy at 2:30 p.m.

Ward’s boyfriend and the father of the child, identified by Marsico as Arthur Thomas Livering of Middletown, was also in the residence at the time of the child’s death. Livering was sleeping in the same room but was not sleeping with the child, Marsico said.

Livering on May 25 was charged with endangering the welfare of children, and possession of marijuana.

Toxicology results showed that 0.65 nannograms of THC — the active ingredient in marijuana — was in the infant’s system at the time of his death, Marsico said. The THC was in the infant because the mother had been breast feeding the boy, the DA said.

Arrisa Ward’s attorney, Casey Shore, was quoted in a published report on May 25 as saying that Ward has one other child. The child remains in Ward’s custody, following an investigation that had been done by Children & Youth Services of Dauphin County. Shore did not return a phone call from the Press & Journal on Friday, May 26.

Marsico also was unable to provide any information regarding any toxicology results for Ward, such as her blood alcohol content at the time of the infant's death.

Ward has cooperated with borough police and with Dauphin County detectives since the start of the investigation, Marsico said.

Ward has been charged with involuntary manslaughter because while the action was the result of reckless or criminally negligent behavior — getting drunk and smoking marijuana and then sleeping with her child — Ward clearly did not intend to kill her child, the DA said.

The maximum penalty for involuntary manslaughter is 10 years, Marsico said. However, “our sentencing guidelines would call for anything from probation to about two years in prison,” for Ward, the DA noted. Ward appears to have no previous criminal convictions, based upon a check of online court records.

The task force that the county has formed regarding co-sleeping involves the DA’s office and a number of other county agencies, including Children & Youth. The task force has begun meeting and the hope is that it can come forth with recommendations sometime in September.

Marsico urged that parents take the advice of pediatricians and other health care professionals — “don’t sleep with your children.” The chance of a tragedy like this happening becomes greater if the parent involved is under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, Marsico said.

The problem is not new, he added. While saying that the number of incidents is on the rise, Marsico could not provide any figures, saying that is part of what the task force is studying.

The task force is going to take “a hard look at this problem and what we can do to prevent these preventable tragedies,” Marsico said. “These are deaths that are purely  preventable.”

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