Westmoreland DA says Vandergrift father was ‘reckless’ in infant’s death
The death of a 1-month-old boy who police said suffocated after his father fell asleep with him was not an accident, Westmoreland County’s top prosecutor said Thursday.
Owen Copney was repeatedly told not to fall asleep with the boy, Isiah, on his chest but did it anyway, District Attorney John Peck said.
“An accident means that you have no control over the result. In other words, it just happened as a result of something that’s out of your control,” Peck said. “In this case, he did have control over the situation. He could have put the child back in a crib or a bassinet. It was reckless not to do that.”
Copney, 26, of Vandergrift remained free Thursday on $25,000 unsecured bond, awaiting a preliminary hearing on felony charges of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment.
His son died Sept. 19, two days after Isiah and Copney fell asleep together at Copney’s home on Columbia Avenue.
No one answered the door at Copney’s house Thursday.
Detectives with the Westmoreland County District Attorney’s Office filed charges against Copney this week. They said Copney admitted he fell asleep with Isiah lying face down on his chest Sept. 17. When he woke up, Isiah was face down in the crook of his arm and wasn’t breathing, according to a criminal complaint.
Such charges are rare because such cases are rare, Peck said.
“It’s infrequent that a parent ends up suffocating their child,” Peck said. “It does happen from time to time, where there’s a case of recklessness on behalf of the parent or the person responsible for the child.”
Peck said babies are so small that if a parent isn’t careful, it can happen.
Isiah was treated by paramedics at the scene then taken to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, where he died.
The infant’s mother told detectives Copney had fallen asleep with Isiah on him before, and she had numerous talks with him about it, according to the complaint. She said Copney had been made aware of the danger of falling asleep with Isiah on his chest, and she made it clear that she didn’t want him doing it.
Copney told detectives that Isiah’s mother had warned him in the past not to sleep with Isiah on his chest.
The infant’s mother left Isiah with Copney while she went to a friend’s house Sept. 17. She didn’t return a message seeking comment Thursday.
Peck couldn’t immediately say whether the mother will be charged but said he doubted it.
“As I recall, the facts were that she had confronted him about this and warned him about it, and I suspect he agreed to comply and didn’t,” Peck said.
Dr. Sanjay Mitra, medical director of the neonatal intensive care unit at West Penn Hospital, said it is best for babies to sleep on their backs in separate cribs or beds.
Because babies aren’t able to control their neck movement, they could suffocate if they sleep on their stomachs, causing sudden unexpected infant death, he said.
“Babies should be sleeping on the back, on a flat surface, and on a firm mattress,” he said.
Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Madasyn at 724-226-4702, [email protected] or via Twitter .