COLUMBIA - The Richland County Sheriff's Office has upgraded charges to homicide against a Midlands woman whose infant died while a Department of Social Services staffer was searching for the family.
Jennifer Coles, 28, is now facing charges of homicide by child abuse or neglect. She was initially arrested on charges of unlawful conduct toward a child.
Her son, five-month-old Bryson Webb, died in his car seat on April 22, after he stopped breathing. Bryson's doctor and nurses had warned Coles that he had to be connected to a monitor that would sound off if the boy had trouble breathing or his heart slowed, Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said at the time of her arrest.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said through a written release Tuesday that investigators learned Bryson also was not given the proper prescribed medications. Bryson "died because Coles did not give her baby the medicine necessary to live and left the baby's monitor in the trunk of her car and not on him, where it belonged," the release said.
Bryson's death triggered additional criticism of DSS by lawmakers. The boy's medical caretakers knew Bryson's monitor was being used sporadically, which is why a call was placed to DSS on March 3. But it took 49 days for DSS to contact the person who placed that call, Watts said at the time of Coles' arrest.
"DSS never followed up with that person who made the complaint," Lott said on April 30. "She would have been able to put them together, DSS with Ms. Coles, almost immediately. Where they (DSS) were calling, how they were doing it, I don't know."
Bryson's death triggered a policy change at DSS. On April 30, the agency added a requirement that if staff cannot find a child or family within 72 hours, they must contact law enforcement for assistance, said DSS Director Lillian Koller.
Cynthia Roldan can be reached at 708-5891.