Thursday, March 15, 2012

State must pay $432,000 after infant dies in foster care, Clackamas County jury rules

By Steve Mayes

A Clackamas County jury concluded Wednesday that the Oregon Department of Human Services was negligent and partially responsible for the death of Astrid Ash, an infant who died while in foster care four years ago.

The jury also found the child's father partly at fault, but awarded him $432,300 in damages.

The father, Sam Driessen, filed a wrongful death lawsuit seeking more than $1.5 million.

The testimony highlighted two contrasting and troubling versions of the events preceding the death of 10 1/2-month-old Astrid.

Driessen had twice been convicted of drug crimes before he met Emily C. Ashby through a Craigslist ad where she offered to trade sex for methamphetamine, said Dirk Pierson, a state attorney representing DHS.

Ashby became pregnant and gave birth to twins -- born almost two months prematurely -- in late June 2007. Several weeks later she was found passed out in a car at a fast-food restaurant. After she tested positive for alcohol and drugs, DHS took custody of the twins and placed them in a West Linn foster home.

Astrid failed to thrive and had difficulty gaining weight. She suffered from reflux and sometimes vomited her meals. The foster mother compared the child to "a stopped-up sink."

Driessen's attorney, David Paul, said the foster parents were overwhelmed with their own children and financial responsibilities and did not have the skills to deal with medically fragile babies. DHS workers and others praised the foster parents as well trained, diligent and capable of caring for the twins.

On May 11, 2008 -- Mother's Day -- the foster mother discovered Astrid unconscious in bed. No one had checked on the baby for several hours. The foster parents unsuccessfully tried to revive her. A hospital doctor who examined Astrid after death reported her body temperature was 103 degrees, a sign of serious infection.

"This baby did not have to die," Paul said. Had DHS done its job and involved Driessen, "he would have pushed the right button" and immediately hospitalized the baby, Paul said.

DHS took a blood sample from Driessen in mid-March 2008 and knew he was the father almost two weeks before Astrid died. The agency, however, did not tell him until after Astrid was buried. The death certificate listed the cause of death -- and the name of the father -- as "unknown."

Pierson, the DHS attorney, said Driessen showed no interest in the twins or their welfare during Astrid's short life "and now he wants a million and a half bucks."

Although Ashby told Driessen he was probably the twin's father, he took no action to protect or support the children even though he knew Ashby used illegal drugs while nursing the infants, Pierson said.

The jury agreed up to a point. It found DHS was 56 percent responsible for the death.

DHS bears more blame because it was responsible for Astrid's care but failed to adequately address her on-going medical problems, said a juror, who spoke on condition he not be identified. The jury found other DHS actions troubling, said the juror: the delay in telling Driessen that he was the father, the lack of an autopsy that could determine the cause of death and burying the body the day after the death.

Driessen said he has changed since Astrid's death. He quit drugs, is employed and engaged to be married. He was given custody of the surviving twin, Axel, who reportedly is doing well.


No comments:

Post a Comment