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Aliquippa father is charged by Beaver County DA in girls' dresser death

| Thursday, July 24, 2014, 10:06 a.m.
WPXI
Ryeley and Brooklyn Beatty
WPXI
David Beatty, 28, is escorted from the Aliquippa Police Department on Thursday, July 24, 2014.
WPXI
Jennifer Beatty, 28, sits in a police car outside the Aliquippa police department on Thursday July 24, 2014, after she was charged with endangering the welfare of children.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
From left, Aliquippa police Detective Captain Ryan Pudik, Aliquippa police Chief Don Couch, District Attorney Anthony Berosh, Assistant District Attorney Frank Martocci and Beaver County Detective Timmie Patrick hold a news conference Thursday, July 24, 2014, at the Aliquippa Police Department announcing the arrest of David and Jennifer Beatty in the death of their daughters.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
A grieving David Beatty (center) and his wife Jennifer (immediately to his right) receive comfort through hugs during a community vigil outside their Irwin Street home in Aliquippa Monday, July 7, 2014. Their daughters Ryeley and Brooklyn died over the weekend after a dresser fell on them.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
A family photo of Ryeley Beatty is shared with the media in Aliquippa Monday, July 7, 2014. She and her sister Brooklyn died over the weekend after a dresser fell on them.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Family photos of Ryeley and Brooklyn Beatty adorn the family fence during a community vigil outside their Irwin Street home in Aliquippa Monday, July 7, 2014. Their girls died over the weekend after a dresser fell on them.

The time an Aliquippa father spent in the bathroom while a toppled dresser smothered his young daughters ended any chance of saving their lives, Beaver County's top prosecutor said on Thursday in announcing criminal charges against him.

“This is a perfect example, to use a phrase in another context, that children should not be left behind,” District Attorney Anthony Berosh said. “And that's what happened in this case.”

David Beatty was charged with two felony counts of involuntary manslaughter. He was the only adult home on July 4 when the dresser fell on Brooklyn, 2, and Ryeley, 3, as they played in the bottom drawer. Brooklyn died that day. Ryeley died two days later.

Prosecutors filed two counts of child endangerment against Beatty and his wife, Jennifer, saying their Irwin Street home was in “deplorable condition.”

Police said they encountered accumulated filth of soiled bedding, used diapers, human and pet feces, dirty dishes and flies — swarming and dead — throughout the house, which had gone without gas service for weeks.

District Judge Janet Swihart issued a $25,000 unsecured bond for the couple. Preliminary hearings are scheduled for July 31.

Defense attorney Dale Fouse, who preceded Berosh as district attorney, questioned how his clients' actions and the condition of their home contributed to their daughters' deaths.

“It's obviously a tragic accident,” Fouse said. “The Beattys are suffering. This certainly did not make it any better.”

The couple's three other children, ages 4 to 8, are living with family across the street. A man who answered the door at the residence would not comment.

Neighbor Don Harvey said the family kept to themselves and that he was unaware of the condition of their house. He said he was stunned to hear about the charges.

“When I tell my wife, she'll be shocked,” said Harvey, 80.

Autopsies revealed the girls died of asphyxiation from chest compression.

The forensic pathologist who examined their bodies indicated the deaths might have been avoided had David Beatty reacted sooner.

“Both children would have survived this incident without significant injury,” Dr. Todd Luckasevic of the Beaver County Coroner's Office told investigators, according to a criminal complaint.

Berosh and a police complaint said Beatty initially told authorities that he left the girls playing in the drawer while he started their bath and that he rushed into the room seconds after hearing a loud crash to find them pinned beneath the furniture and not breathing.

He later said he was in the bathroom when he heard the crash and called out to the girls, who did not respond. He said he thought nothing of it because they often were loud while playing.

“My position is the children should not have been in those drawers to begin with,” Berosh said. The girls each weighed about 30 pounds, and the dresser, 124 pounds, Berosh said.

At different times, Beatty told police that he checked on the girls within seconds, after “a minute or two,” that he remained in the bathroom for “another 10 to 15 minutes” or “up to a half hour,” police said in the complaint.

“That time period is a real aggravating factor,” said University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff, who is not involved with the case.

Filing charges in such cases can be a difficult call, Burkoff said. Sometimes, prosecutors decline to do so — such as when Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. decided not to charge the mother of a 2-year-old who slipped from her hands and was mauled to death by African painted dogs at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.

An Allegheny County judge last month acquitted an Arnold man charged with involuntary manslaughter in the 2008 death of his infant son. Prosecutors said the boy was shaken to death.

“We all make bad judgments, but that's not always enough (to justify charges),” Burkoff said. “Prosecutors must figure out whether it was ordinary, regular negligence or if it was gross negligence. That's not a clear line; it's gray.”

Jason Cato is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com.

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