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Judge orders trial for Loyalhanna Township couple accused of assaulting infant

| Friday, Feb. 8, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
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Elizabeth M. Fair, 21, of Loyalhanna Twp., was arrested Jan. 28 on multiple criminal charges for allegedly abusing her infant daughter.
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Christopher L. Peterman, 19, of Loyalhanna Twp., was arrested Jan. 28 on multiple criminal charges for allegedly abusing an infant.

Doctors feared a 3-month-old girl born prematurely would not survive abuse that left her with more than 30 rib fractures, other broken bones and internal bleeding, a doctor testified Thursday.

“She was as sick as a child can be,” Dr. Rachel Berger of the Child Protection Team of Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UMPC testified via telephone at a preliminary hearing for the baby's parents.

“Certainly the first day, there was concern she was not going to survive this,” Berger said. “The injuries required significant force.”

Washington Township District Judge Jason Buczak ordered Elizabeth M. Fair, 21, and Christopher L. Peterman, 19, both of 132 Mulberry St., Loyalhanna Township, to stand trial for aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy and endangering the welfare of a child because of the injuries suffered by their infant daughter.

“I can't even imagine how much pain this baby was in,” Berger said. “I don't think in 12 years (of medical practice), I've ever seen a child with so many rib fractures.”

Neither suspect spoke during the hearing. Peterman, dressed in a blue jumpsuit, denied hurting the infant as he walked into the courtroom. Fair's attorney said she did not hurt the baby.

Clem Peterman, the suspect's father, said he attended the hearing in the interest of his granddaughter. He declined to say who is caring for the infant, but said that her health is improving.

Fair and Christopher Peterman have been ordered to have no contact with the infant.

“I don't like to think my son did it and I don't like to think Elizabeth did it,” Clem Peterman said. “This is unreal.”

State police said they were contacted by the Westmoreland County Children's Bureau after the couple took the infant to Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg with “life-threatening injuries” on Oct. 20. She was flown to Children's Hospital.

The baby had suffered more than 30 rib fractures, a skull fracture, a broken right femur, two fractured arms, a lacerated spleen and bruises of the heart and lungs, said Berger, who examined the infant on Oct. 22.

The child had been abused on more than one occasion, she said.

The couple initially told doctors that they brought the infant into the emergency room after her breathing monitor alarm went off, according to an affidavit filed by Trooper Todd Adamski.

Christopher Peterman told doctors at Excela that “the injuries must have occurred when the baby's bassinet frame collapsed” in their mobile home, police said.

Berger disputed that fall, about 8 to 10 inches, could cause such extensive injuries.

Attorney Timothy Dawson, who represents Fair, and Public Defender Greg Cecchetti, who represents Christopher Peterman, suggested the infant could have been injured when the couple performed CPR after she had stopped breathing.

“There is absolutely no proof that the mother injured her child in any way,” Dawson said.

Amanda Dolasinski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6220 or adolasinski@tribweb.com.

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