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Child endangerment case spins in many directions

| Saturday, March 1, 2003

MONESSEN - There was plenty of action at District Justice Joseph Dalfonso's office Friday as preliminary hearings were scheduled for three parents accused of child endangerment.

Police cars sat outside and television news cameras rolled. Active warrants were served and an ambulance was called to the scene.

In addition, an irate, estranged husband showed up from Michigan wanting to know the whereabouts of his children.

The amazing aspect surrounding the buzz was that none of the hearings ever took place.

Scheduled hearings for Kim Whitlatch, 26, of 624 Chestnut St., Monessen, and James Anthony, 35, of 622 Summit Ave., Monessen, were continued.

The hearing for the third charged parent, Tina Welch, 30, of 642 Braddock Ave., Monessen, was waived after she pleaded guilty to lesser charges.

Whitlatch, Anthony and Welch were all charged in connection with an incident that took place Sunday when Monessen police discovered nine children, ranging in ages from 1 to 13, left alone without adult supervision in a home surrounded by filth.

Police were summoned to the home and discovered the children unattended inside the residence, which was cluttered with garbage and dog feces and had no heat.

Windows were broken out of the home and the children were trying to warm the house with burners from an electric range.

Police called officials of Westmoreland County Children and Youth Services, who placed Whitlatch's four children in foster care. They also placed Anthony's three children and Welch's two children in the care of the children's grandparents.

A 10th child, who was not in the home but is one of Welch's children, was also placed in custody of grandparents.

Police had indicated previously that all 10 children had been found inside the house on Sunday.

On Friday, while most of the attention was expected to be focused on the three charged parents, it ended up falling on Bonnie Cooper.

Cooper, 50, also of 624 Chestnut St., is Whitlatch's mother. She also reportedly owns the home where the incident took place.

Dalfonso had two outstanding warrants against Cooper for non-payment of fines. Dalfonso ordered police to serve the warrants to Cooper as she sat in the office lobby with her daughter.

The warrants were a result of old cruelty to animals charges that had been lodged against Cooper.

Cooper then appeared before Dalfonso and was ordered to pay $165 in fines. In addition, she was informed that she had been cited for city code violations involving her home.

The latest citation came as a result of Sunday's incident. Cooper was cited for violating ordinances for the condition of the house's inner structure and accumulation of garbage inside the home.

Cooper pleaded guilty to the latest charges and Dalfonso fined her $300 plus costs.

The hearings for Whitlatch and Anthony were continued because Public Defender Mark Shire determined he could not represent both as it could constitute a conflict of interest.

"They both have a right to a full and complete defense," Shire explained. "There is a potential that it is impossible to do that with both being represented by myself."

Shire said that he was certain he would end up representing one of the two, but he did not know which one.

"I did advise both not to talk to the media," Shire said.

Welch's attorney, Tim Dawson, said his client waived her hearing to court with a plea agreement to lesser charges.

"She has pleaded guilty to two counts of endangerment as a misdemeanor instead of a felony," said Dawson of Welch.

"She will be able to go home today," he said.

Welch had been in the Westmoreland County Detention Center since her arrest because she was not able to post 10 percent of $10,000 bond.

"Tina has no prior criminal record and she is being released on her own recognizance," Dawson said.

Whitlatch had been released on $10,000 bond and Anthony was out on 10 percent of $10,000.

Meanwhile, while the hearings were being continued, Cooper became ill outside in the parking lot.

Personnel from Mon Valley EMS responded and took her to Mon Valley Hospital. A relative at the scene said Cooper has high blood pressure, diabetes and had suffered a stroke previously.

Inside Dalfonso's office, Ralph Welch asked Dalfonso what he could to do to get custody of his two children by Tina Welch.

Dalfonso urged him to contact Westmoreland County CYS.

"I came 600 miles to see my children and I don't know where one of them is," said Ralph Welch, who lives in Irons, Mich. "I have partial custody and I should have my kids."

The hearings for Whitlatch and Anthony were rescheduled for 9:30 a.m. March 7.

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