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State to review county's handling of Vermilion Twp. case

Sandusky Register Staff • Nov 14, 2012 at 5:46 PM

For more on the state's comments on the case, pick up a copy of Thursday's Register.

Read Wednesday's follow up below.

Administrators at Vermilion Schools said their employees saw only loving, caring parents when they visited the Risden Road home of James Brothers and Adrienne Bartholomew.

"(The employees) clearly believe, in their heart of hearts, that this was a family that loved and cared for their children," Vermilion Schools superintendent Phil Pempin said Tuesday. "They did not believe there was any abuse or neglect going on."

Brothers and Bartholomew's school-age children had "complex medical needs" that required involvement from specialized professionals, school officials said.

Three district employees were involved in creating special developmental programs or providing various services for three of the couple's seven children.

The statement aligns at least in part with what Brothers, 33, told the Register Friday, just days after the death of his 18-month-old son, Isaac Brothers-Bartholomew.

He said social workers or officials had, in fact, visited his home before and found no problems.

Paramedics and Erie County deputies responded to the couple's home at about 7 p.m. Nov. 6, when Bartholomew, 34, called 911 and said her infant son was dead. When paramedics arrived at the scene, Brothers was standing in the driveway, holding his toddler's lifeless body in his arms.   

A pathologist has said Isaac died of suspected malnourishment, although an official autopsy report has yet to be completed, Erie County deputies said.  

Brothers said Isaac had eating issues and had difficulty absorbing his food. He also told the Register that Isaac seemed fine when he put him down for a nap earlier that afternoon.   

Investigators said they're having trouble firming up the family's statements about Isaac's medical problems.

"In the records I see, I'm not finding anything to confirm the parents' statements about Isaac," Erie County Chief Deputy Jared Oliver said.

In the days following Isaac's death, deputies and Erie County social workers removed all six children from the home. Four of them — ages 7, 6, 6 and 2 — are being treated for malnourishment at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland.  

"Since these kids have been admitted to the hospital, they've all gained weight," Oliver said.

One of the children, a 6-year-old boy, weighed 23 pounds when he was taken to the hospital last week, Oliver said. Multiple medical websites indicate the typical weight of a 6-year-old boy is about 46 pounds.

Additionally, deputies said Tuesday that Isaac's weight at the time of death was about 12 pounds. A typical 18-month-old weighs upwards of 24 pounds, according to online medical sources.

Deputies said they're sifting through a mountain of medical records they obtained from Maxim Health Care Services, the medical company that employs the woman who Brothers and Bartholomew named as their home healthcare provider.

That same woman is also the children's paternal grandmother, Erie County deputies said.

When deputies interviewed the woman last week, she called her grandchildren her "clients," and Brothers called her "their home healthcare provider," Oliver said.

Beyond the medical records, deputies said they're also trying to figure out the extent of involvement from any local social service agencies.

Erie County Board of Developmental Disabilities interim director Carrie Beier said the family was involved in her agency's Help Me Grow program, which Beier also oversees. The program connects families of children ages 3 and younger to social or medical programs and services offered in the community.

Beier declined to comment about the case, deferring to the ongoing investigation, although she did say that her workers would take action if they had noticed anything of concern during any home visit.

"If there was anyone in the home and there was a concern and they were aware of it, that's something they would have reported," Beier said. "That's what anybody who serves kids does."

It was much the same story at Vermilion Schools, where at least three employees — a school psychologist and two special education directors — were involved with three of the children to varying degrees.

The oldest child, an 11-year-old boy, received his schooling online, school officials said. At the start of this school year, the district had set up a program where the three children were scheduled to visit a school building once a week. School officials declined to provide information on the children's attendance in those programs.

One of Vermilion Schools' special education directors was most involved with the family, although the woman is actually a contractor who works for North Point Educational Service Center, school officials said.

The woman is part-time and is slated to soon retire. The new special education director is a full-time Vermilion Schools employee, superintendent Phil Pempin said.     

At least two school employees would make occasional visits to the Risden Road home, but they didn't necessarily see all the children during those visits, district officials said.  

The school district said it has already retained an attorney in this matter.

Investigators are still trying to figure out how one child is dead and four others hospitalized — all suffering suspected malnourishment — and no one noticed.  

On Friday, neighbors at the Resdin Road home said the children rarely came outside.

Erie County Job and Family Services director Karen Balconi Ghezzi has refused to discuss the case, other than confirming her agency assumed ownership of a case transferred here from Cuyahoga County, when the family moved to Vermilion Township.

In the Cuyahoga County case, the family was ordered to provide certain medical care to the children, Oliver said.

It's entirely unclear why social workers at Erie County Job and Family Services did not keep the family's case open after 2009. Balconi Ghezzi said those records are private.

Brothers and Bartholomew's attorney, Denise Demmitt, met with Oliver Tuesday.

"She had some questions," Oliver said. "She wanted to know more about the investigation."  

According to court records, Demmitt had represented Brothers in the Geauga County child support case. The Lucas County coroner's full report on Isaac's autopsy is expected back as early as Friday, Oliver said.

Those results should pinpoint the child's official cause of death, as well as determining his various medical problems.

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