Witnesses say starving twins now thriving
WASHINGTON, Pa. – The foster parents of 6-year-old twins who were removed from their New Eagle home last year amid claims of starvation and imprisonment said the siblings are now thriving and enrolled in school.
Janelle White and Peggy Beich were among eight witnesses who testified Wednesday in the Washington County Courthouse against the twins' mother, Roxanne Taylor.
Taylor, 26, of 353 Seventh Ave., is accused of neglecting her children –a boy and girl.
She was charged after the boy was discovered lying in the middle of Seventh Avenue shortly before 6 a.m. Feb. 15 wearing a T-shirt and a diaper.
Police believe the boy climbed out of a bedroom window. Officials later found his sister in a locked bedroom in the house.
The twins allegedly were malnourished, weighed only about 33 pounds each, and were covered in feces when they were taken to Monongahela Valley Hospital in Carroll Township, according to Monongahela police.
Taylor and the twins' father, Edward J. Buckholz, were arrested March 28 on charges of aggravated assault, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, unlawful restraint, false imprisonment and endangering the welfare of children.
While Buckholz, 34, pleaded guilty June 26 to two felony counts of aggravated assault, Taylor chose to stand trial.
The jury of seven women and five men heard testimony from medical personnel who treated the twins Feb. 15 and four current and former Washington County Children & Youth Services employees who had investigated complaints about Taylor and Buckholz over the years.
In court Wednesday, Taylor rarely made eye contact with the jury or the witnesses and didn't look at photos of her children that were displayed as evidence.
Natalee Peters, the Monongahela Valley Hospital emergency room nurse who treated the couple's daughter the morning of Feb. 15, became emotional as she described the twins' appearance to Assistant District Attorney Traci McDonald.
“They were both covered in feces and smelled like urine,” said Peters, fighting back tears. “The girl's hair was matted, her eyes were sunken in and they both had distended stomachs.
“They looked like they were no more than 2 or 3 years old.
“It was the worst case I've ever seen as a registered nurse.”
Peters said an insect was found in the girl's left ear. She testified she bathed the girl, tried to “comfort” her and bought her a teddy bear.
“She said she was hungry, so I got her a tray of food,” Peters said. “She finished that and asked for more food.”
In cross-examination, defense attorney Andrew Glasgow questioned the amount of feces found on the children and their overall health.
Peters replied that Taylor and Buckholz were in the waiting room and told her the children had no health issues and didn't know how their son got the bruises.
CYS officials also questioned the couple at the hospital.
CYS Supervisor Christine Martin testified that the agency had been in and out of the couple's lives since 2008 over concerns about the twins' welfare, deplorable housing conditions and a large number of animals, including pit bulls, living in the house.
The last open CYS investigation was from September 2010 to June 2011.
Martin testified that she met the family in 2010. She said the house smelled of urine and that the twins were confined to their cribs. Nine pit bulls were caged in the basement, she said.
She said the agency arranged early intervention therapy for the twins' developmental delays.
Martin said the cases were closed each time as the couple complied with orders, kept the twins' medical and therapy appointments, and attended parenting classes.
Martin and three other past caseworkers, Marie Wolf-Hatalowich, Bethany Tobias and Yvonne Lyons, testified that the twins were always small in stature, but they didn't recognize them Feb. 15 at the hospital.
“I was shocked when I saw them. They looked like kids in Ethiopian commercials,” said Martin, adding she saw bruises on the boy and both children were losing their hair.
“They were shoving food in their mouths,” Martin said. The girl was a little better. (The boy) just seemed beat up.”
Tobias, the last caseworker assigned to the children, described the twins as “feral,” and said she raised concerns with the couple after seeing a latch made for holding padlocks on the twins' bedroom door.
Tobias said the refrigerator was always “packed full of food” during her visits, and Taylor once asked her if CYS could give them money for a new vehicle transmission and dog food.
“They never asked for money for the kids,” Tobias said.
The case was closed in June 2011, when the couple was deemed to be in compliance.
Dr. Jennifer Wolford, a physician with the Child Advocacy Center at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, testified the twins spent three days in the hospital after they were transferred Feb. 15 from Monongahela Valley Hospital.
She testified the children underwent a battery of tests to determine if they had health issues causing them to be underdeveloped.
“All the tests came back normal,” Wolford said.
Wolford said the twins only spoke at an 18- to 24-month age level. She said the twins weighed about 33 pounds when they were admitted. Last month, their weight was about 54 pounds each.
Wolford said the twins were “subjected to neglect.”
Under cross-examination, Wolford said the twins seemed neither “traumatized,” nor “frightened,” during their hospital stay and were often smiling and interacting with the staff.
Glasgow questioned the discharge instructions for the twins.
“So, Children's (Hospital's) response was to treat malnutrition with a regular diet and Pediasure supplements?” Glasgow stated.
Wolford quickly responded, “That's the cool thing (about malnutrition). You just have to feed them.”
The twins are in separate foster homes. White testified the girl has been living with her since Nov. 1, now weighs 56-pounds and just completed kindergarten.
“She knows the alphabet, her numbers and can dress and bathe herself,” White stated.
Beich testified the boy weighs 55-pounds, also finished kindergarten, and went to Kennywood Park last week.
Despite their progress, both foster parents testified the children are in trauma therapy and see a psychiatrist. A previous psychiatrist diagnosed them with intellectual disabilities.
The girl has nightmares and is often aggressive, White said, while the boy is “obsessed” with checking windows and doors.
“He needs to make sure they can open and shut,” said Beich, adding he never asks about his birth parents.
Testimony was scheduled to resume at 8:30 a.m. Thursday. Taylor is expected to take the witness stand in her own defense.
Stacy Wolford is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-684-2640 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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