COLUMBIA - Reports of another child's death in Richland County triggered a renewed call for the firing of the Department of Social Services director by gubernatorial candidate Vincent Sheheen on Tuesday.
Sheheen, D-Camden, held a copy of a newspaper that featured the death of an infant, as he called on Gov. Nikki Haley to fire DSS Director Lillian Koller.
"The failure of the agency is nothing short of a crisis," Sheheen said at a news conference. "It's time to step up and acknowledge that this agency is an utter failure."
The infant featured in the article was a 5-month-old boy who died on April 22 while DSS had an open investigation on the family. The agency couldn't find the family until Friday, three days after the boy's death.
DSS had been searching for the family since March 4, after receiving reports that the child was not receiving proper medical care. Caseworkers visited the home several times at that address, before the family was found in a different county on Friday.
In a written statement after Sheheen's news conference, Koller said the agency's staffers work hard every day to protect children from the "worst imaginable circumstances."
"There are a small number of tragic cases in which their best efforts do not succeed, as in this case where we could not locate Baby Webb and his apparently transient family after repeated attempts," Koller said. "We will always be looking for ways to improve performance in the department until we reach a day when no children in South Carolina are neglected or abused."
A Richland County Sheriff's Office spokesman said investigators were working the case. Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said his office is also working the case and may have additional information for release today.
Sheheen isn't the only senator who has called for Koller to be fired. Sens. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, and Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, have called on Haley to fire Koller as well.
"It's fitting that Vince Sheheen was flanked by his campaign signs when he went on the attack today, because there isn't a tragedy sad enough that he won't try to score political points with - and it's a real shame that Vince Sheheen wants to politicize an innocent child's death," Haley campaign spokesman Rob Godfrey said in a written statement.
Sheheen could not offer additional information on the case that wasn't already revealed by law enforcement and the coroner's office. But he argued the baby's death is yet another example of why Koller has to go.
"If you believe, like I do, that the buck stops at the top, if you believe in the cabinet form of government like I do, then you have to hold the leadership accountable, and the leadership of this agency is Nikki Haley and Lillian Koller," Sheheen said. "At the end of the day, the buck stops at the top and that's who is responsible."
Cynthia Roldan can be reached at 708-5891.
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