Baby sitter sentenced to 6 to 23 months in infant’s death
By JIM TUTTLE
Dottie Bowers was escorted out of the courtroom and taken to Franklin County Jail after being sentenced Wednesday to at least six months of incarceration.
The former baby sitter previously pleaded no contest to endangering the welfare of children in the fatal injury of Heath Ryder, a 10-month-old boy she had been tasked with caring for at her Shippensburg area home July 29, 2010.
After hearing statements from Heath’s parents, 14 of Bowers’ friends and family members and Bowers herself, Judge Carol Van Horn ordered the 57-year-old woman to served between six and 23 months in jail, followed by 36 months of probation.
The sentence also included a $200 fine and restitution totaling $62,756.27, for Heath’s medical bills and funeral costs. Bowers is required to undergo mental health treatment and forbidden from contacting any member of Heath’s family.
She is eligible to qualify for work release and the possibility of early release from jail, Van Horn said.
The Franklin County Probation Department prepared a pre-sentence investigation report which recommended Bowers be sent to jail for at least nine months, which is at the high end of the state’s sentencing guidelines considering her crime and lack of criminal background.
Bowers had been accused of contributing to the infant’s death by failing to seek medical care for about 57 minutes on July 29, 2010, after discovering that he was not breathing normally. According to the evidence, she made about 10 attempts to call Heath’s mother, but never called 911.
Shelly Ryder called 911 after she arrived at Bowers’ home and began giving her unresponsive son CPR. Heath died of traumatic brain injury Aug. 2 at Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Hershey.
A 10-year-old girl who was also being baby-sat at Bowers’ home is charged with third-degree murder for allegedly shaking and throwing Heath into a crib, inflicting brain and neck injuries. Her case remains active in the county’s juvenile court system, which is closed to the public.
Bowers’ lawyer, Joseph Caraciolo, and her supporters asked the judge Wednesday to consider a probation-only sentence. Several said she has lost about 100 pounds in the past year and that she continues to suffer in “her own emotional prison” because of the incident.
“Justice is not served by sending Dottie Bowers to jail for nine months,” Caraciolo said. “Sending Dottie to jail for nine months is not justice, it’s vengeance.”
Given an opportunity to speak for herself, Bowers tearfully said that she was “sincerely sorry” for what happened, and that her inaction was the result of panic.
“I was terrified. All I could think to do was call the mom,” Bowers said with a shaky voice. “I thought the right thing at the time was to wait for her to get there.”
Van Horn noted that Bowers was unlikely to re-offend and that her rehabilitative needs could also be met outside the jail, but said she gave the most weight to the effect of the crime on baby Heath and his family when reaching a decision.
“Fifty seven minutes is a long time to be frozen in a state of inaction,” Van Horn said. “You failed Heath in your duty of care.”
Franklin County District Attorney Matthew Fogal spoke briefly before Heath’s parents and two family friends addressed the court. He noted that “it’s been a long road” for the family since their child was killed nearly two years ago, and asked that Bowers be sentenced appropriately.
“This happened on her watch and she did not respond appropriately,” he said.
Mark and Shelly Ryder stood next to each other, one comforting the other while they made their statements. Mark clutched a white scrapbook filled with photos of their son.
“I watched my baby lie dying for four days and he will never see the light of day,” Shelly said. “I just can’t understand why.”
Mark passed the album up to Van Horn, and she paged through it for a few minutes.
”Right there is the most precious thing in the world,” he said, recalling the last days of Heath’s life, before life support was discontinued and his organs were harvested to help others. “There’s nothing any worse in your life than when they pull that plug.”
He asked the judge to put Bowers in jail.
“I pray every day that justice is served for my son,” he said. “These people need to pay severely for what happened.”
Jim Tuttle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 262-4754. Follow him on Twitter @JimTuttlePO.