Crime & Courts

Judge denies caregiver bail

A Columbia woman charged with two counts of homicide by child abuse was denied bail during an emotional hearing Monday morning.

Circuit Court Judge Diane Goodstein said she was concerned that Andrea M. Person continued to keep children at her Scottish Court home after the Department of Social Services asked her to stop operating following the April 2 death of an infant at her home.

Warrants allege Person is responsible for the deaths of four-month-old Zachary Ulengchong in 1998 and 1-year-old Elijah M. Brown in 2001, both of whom she cared for in her former home.

Additional charges in the death of 2-month-old Michael Harris Walker on April 2 are likely, Richland County Sheriff’s department investigator Kevin Isenhoward testified.

Isenhoward said parents told police Person had told them to drop their children off at her sister’s house, ignoring the DSS order.

“The court must be assured that when someone is out on bond, they will follow the orders of the court,” Goodstein said.

Her decision elicited gasps and sobs from Person’s dozen family members in the courtroom.

Earlier, wearing a T-shirt with a photo of her son Michael Harris Walker, Cheryl Walker pleaded with the court to deny Person bail.

“I wanted to come home to (Michael) like her children want her to come home,” Walker said.

Another mother, Gina D. Ulengchong, wore a shirt with her son Zachary’s photo and the words “Mommy’s Angel” on the front.

His 1998 death was attributed to pneumonia, but earlier this month, Person told police she covered his nose and mouth for 15 to 20 seconds until he “went to sleep,” Isenhoward testified. Zachary was unresponsive when she checked on him several hours later, he said.

The mother of two teenage children also told police that in 2001, she had wrapped Elijah in a heavy blanket and left him under a heating vent, Isenhoward testified. His cause of death was ruled sudden infant death syndrome.

Person’s attorney, Carl B. Grant, said the fact that his client did not eat or take her medication for type 2 diabetes before speaking to police April 2 could have contributed to her statements. Person’s husband of 17 years, Rodney, told the court his wife had a “gift” for caring for people.

Michael’s death triggered the Richland County Coroner’s office protocol that investigates all child deaths, said Coroner Gary Watts.

Watts was elected coroner a week before Elijah’s death in 2001 and later established the protocol, though not specifically in response to the baby’s death, he said.