Toddler Left in Hot Car Has Never Fully Recovered

The photo shows the front of an ambulance with its emergency lights on.
File Photo

Justin Strawser

The Daily Item, Sunbury, Pa.

(MCT)

The toddler left in a hot car allegedly by her mother in June 2018 has never fully recovered from the brain damage caused by the heat, according to the child’s grandmother.

On Wednesday, in Northumberland County Court, Tina Sones, of Watsontown, testified that she has been the legal guardian and caregiver of her granddaughter, who turned five on Aug. 23. The child’s mother, Tonia Lee Sones, who posted bail in 2018, is on trial for aggravated assault and related charges. She is facing a jury of nine women and three men, with two female alternates.

“She can’t stand on her own,” said Tina Sones, breaking down and crying at points during her testimony. “Her brain cannot coordinate everything she needs to do to sit, walk, talk.”

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Tina Sones testified that she and her husband needed to be trained in feeding and physical therapy exercises in order to take care of the child, who was 21-months-old when Tonia Sones allegedly left her in the car on June 1, 2018. The child has a feeding tube, cannot eat solid food, needs braces on her legs, is vision impaired, and cannot talk, said Tina Sones.

But, she said, the child is making some progress.

“Things we never thought she’d do ever again she is doing it three years later,” said Tina Sones. “It’s not without working so darn hard. She’s determined.”

Tina said she tries cutting the girl’s favorite food — watermelon — into bites smaller than a grain of rice. She likes to watch people at stores. She likes to go horseback riding with assistance. She does not like doctor’s appointments, said Tina Sones.

“We didn’t ask for any of this,” said Tina Sones.

Eight witnesses

The first day of the trial had eight witnesses: Tina Sones, Warrior Run Fire Department EMT Ryan Harrison, Evangelical Community Hospital Paramedics Michael Poust and Morgan Plank, State Trooper James Nizinski, Evangelical Community Hospital Emergency Room Physician Dr. John Devine, Geisinger pediatric neurologist Dr. Don Matthews, and State Cpl. Joshua Kendrick of the Stonington Police Barracks.

Tina Sones testified that Tonia Sones picked the child up at Tina’s home at 6:30 a.m. that morning. Tina then visited around 8:30 a.m. to drop off a car for Tonia and left shortly after that.

“I assumed (the child) was in the crib in her room,” said Tina Sones. “She only had a couple of hours of sleep.”

Later, Tina Sones started getting texts from neighbors that the police were at Tonia Sones’ home. When Tonia Sones was reached by phone, Tina Sones said her daughter told her the paramedics were “doing all they can for her (the child),” Tina Sones testified.

Harrison testified that the mother told him that the child was asleep when she came home and she purposefully left the girl in the car because she hadn’t been sleeping. Kendrick testified that he interviewed Tonia Sones, who told him a similar story. He testified that she told him that she took a shower, sat down on the bed and fell asleep until 12:30 p.m.

Poust testified the girl was “completely unresponsive” and unable to breathe on her own on the scene. They attempted to lower her body temperature on scene and those efforts continued at the hospitals where the girl was having seizures, according to testimony.

It was “very, very hot” conditions like a “desert,” Poust said.

Temperatures climbed from 71.1 degrees just before 7 a.m. to 82 degrees at 12:54 p.m., Kendrick testified.

The vehicle was turned off, the doors were locked and the windows were up, said Kendrick.

When Kendrick left the hospital that day, he said there were conversations about whether there would be a need for a homicide investigation, but the girl survived.

“The prognosis wasn’t good,” he said.

The child was not awake for the first couple of days in the hospital. She was covered in cooling blankets, intubated, had very little brain activity, and had IVs and tubes stuck into her, testified Tina Sones.

“We weren’t allowed to pick her up,” she said through tears.

Matthews, who started treating the girl in April, said the child continues to have an epithelial seizure disorder, developmental delays, cognitive issues and is confined to a motorized wheelchair.

The prosecution is led by Assistant District Attorney Julia Skinner. Tonia Sones is represented by Public Defender Michael Suders.

The Commonwealth rested on Wednesday afternoon. The trial resumes today at 9:15 a.m. with the defense having its opportunity to present witnesses and evidence.

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