By PAUL STONE
H-P Associate Editor
Jurors heard testimony from experts representing both sides Tuesday during the trial of a 59-year-old Elkhart woman accused of breaking a toddler’s arm two years ago at a local day care center.
Sally Vincent, 59, of Elkhart is being tried this week on the charge of injury to a child, relating to a May 2003 incident during which the state alleges the woman twisted and broke a 2-year-old girl’s arm while employed at Kaptain Kidz day care center in Palestine.
The local day care has since closed its doors on East Palestine Avenue.
If convicted, Vincent faces two-to-10 years in prison and a fine not to exceed $10,000.
On Tuesday, the 12-person Anderson County jury heard testimony from a pair of doctors who gave differing opinions on the cause of the young girl’s broken arm.
Dr. Eric Levy, an Amarillo physician who specializes in the treatment of critically-ill children, testified on Vincent’s behalf, telling the jury that he believed the girl’s fractured left arm was accidental and resulted from a fall as described by the defendant.
Levy pointed out the 2-year-old weighed 41 pounds and, according to growth charts, was the typical size of a child between the ages of 5 and 5 1/2 years. His testimony indicated the girl’s body mass likely contributed to the force of her fall and, hence, the severity of her injuries.
“She’s big, she’s stout, she’s playing...,” testified Levy, theorizing about the events preceding the young girl’s injuries. “As she falls, she extends her arm...her hand then becomes anchored on the floor.
“All the force is transmitted to her upper arm which breaks,” he continued.
Based on reasonable medical probability, Levy concluded that he believed the girl’s injury was accidental, not intentional as alleged by the state.
“It is my expert opinion that the cause of this fracture would be labeled accidental secondary to the fall,” Levy testified.
Under cross examination, Anderson County District Attorney Doug Lowe asked Levy about inconsistencies between two statements given by Vincent concerning how the girl’s injuries occurred.
“Inconsistent histories is a very frequent finding in child abuse,” Levy admitted.
Lowe also questioned Levy concerning the distance of the girl’s arm from the ground prior to the fall.
Approximately three months before being injured, the district attorney indicated the girl was 34 1/2 inches tall according to medical records.
What do you believe was “the distance from her arm to the ground?” Lowe asked.
“Two feet, maybe a little less,” Levy responded.
The district attorney then asked Levy if he was aware of any medical studies showing the incidence of oblique or spiral fractures suffered by children under 3 falling less than 2 feet.
Levy said he was unaware of any such studies.
Levy also testified he believed the girl suffered an oblique fracture, adding the injury “is not equivalent or a synonym to a spiral fracture.”
Dr. James L. Lukefahr, who specializes in child abuse pediatrics in Galveston, testified on behalf of the state, saying he believed the girl’s injury was a spiral fracture, disagreeing with Levy’s assertion that it was an oblique fracture.
Lukefahr told the jury he believed oblique and spiral are used interchangably by physicians and essentially describe the same type of fracture.
“Spiral is sort of the extreme case, if you will, of oblique fractures,” Lukefahr testified.
“The spiral fracture...really implies a twisting force being applied to the bone,” Lukefahr also testified. “...Accidental falls don’t typically do that, especially in children.”
Based on his study of various medical literature, Lukefahr testified “70 percent or so” of spiral fractures of the humurous “are going to be from child abuse.”
Lukefahr also testified he had reviewed two of Vincent’s statements, saying they were “very different accounts” and adding that the discrepancy “bothers me.”
In conclusion, Lukefahr said he believed the girl’s fractured arm resulted from an intentional act.
“My opinion is that this fracture was due to a forceful twist being applied to this child’s arm and that force was not accidental,” Lukefahr testified.
After the state closed its evidence during the mid-afternoon hours Tuesday, defense attorney Melvin Whitaker called a host of character witnesses, including the defendant’s family members, fellow church members and young mothers who had placed their children under Vincent’s care.
All of the character witnesses described Vincent as a woman who loved children and saw that love returned.
Gina Bunn, the defendant’s niece, works as an assistant attorney general for the State of Texas and has ironically worked closely with the Anderson County district attorney’s office in recent years on death penalty cases.
With her voice cracking at times, Bunn asserted her aunt’s innocence.
“She’s not capable of this,” Bunn testified. “She is not capable of intentionally hurting a child.”
Lowe is being assisted in the prosecution of the case by Anderson County assistant district attorney Stanley Sokolowski.
349th State District Judge Pam Foster Fletcher is presiding over the trial which is expected to conclude this week.
Paul Stone may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
By PAUL STONE