GOOSE CREEK — The young family didn't draw much notice when they moved into a bottom-floor unit in the Spring Hill Apartments about six months ago.
Alexandra Thomas and her husband Jamaar seemed quiet, polite, well-behaved. They were quick with a greeting. Doled out candy to the neighborhood kids. Doted on their infant daughter.
"Both the mother and the father seemed very loving with her," neighbor Donna Rodabaugh said.
For some, that image seemed hard to square with news that the Thomas' 1-year-old girl had been hospitalized Tuesday after swallowing crack cocaine she found on the floor of their apartment. Adding to the shock: Deputies found traces of crack on the kitchen table and on the floors of that room and the living room, according to an arrest affidavit.
Alexandra Thomas, 25, remained in the Berkeley County jail Wednesday, charged with unlawful neglect of a child. Bail is set at $40,000 for Thomas, who has no prior criminal record, authorities said.
Berkeley County sheriff's deputies are still hunting for Jamaar Thomas, also 25 and wanted on a neglect charge. Unlike his wife, he has a lengthy criminal record, with multiple arrests on drug charges, as well as convictions for robbery and running from police, state records show.
The episode unfolded about 2 a.m. Tuesday when Alexandra Thomas showed up with her ailing daughter at a neighboring apartment complex where an off-duty deputy was working the gate. Thomas asked for help. The child lost consciousness and went into respiratory arrest, authorities said.
Emergency workers rushed the girl to Trident Medical Center, where a white powder substance was removed from her. Thomas told hospital staff that her daughter had been chewing on a bag containing a white powder substance before she became ill, according to a police report.
Authorities have described the girl's injuries as non-life-threatening, but further details were unavailable Wednesday.
Joseph Dobson, medical director of MUSC's pediatric emergency department, said it's uncommon, but not unheard of, for infants to accidentally ingest illicit drugs. In these cases, doctors mainly try to treat the symptoms and support the body as toxins work their way through. "You have to ride it out until the child recovers or doesn't," Dobson said.
The main factor is the amount of ingestion, said Fred Tecklenburg, a pediatric intensivist in MUSC's pediatric intensive care unit. The effects are the same as in older people: increased blood pressure, high heart rate, altered mood and neurological symptoms such as large pupils. These symptoms can progress to coma and seizures, he said.
Long-term effects from an infant who has a single poisoning are uncommon, Tecklenburg said, unless the infant has a severe reaction, including seizures and heart palpitations. Brain hemorrhage can lead to lasting brain injury. Cardiac abnormalities can also become chronic. "A child can have a heart attack from cocaine," he said.
Neighbors were stunned by the incident. Rodabaugh said Alexandra Thomas appeared to be a devoted mom, someone who was up early every day and held a steady job at Gene Reed Toyota in neighboring North Charleston, she said.
A co-worker, who did not give his name, said Thomas worked in computer sales and as a greeter at the dealership, and she was considered bright, energetic and well-liked. The co-worker, who knows Thomas' husband as well, said the couple represented the classic scenario of a nice girl attracted to someone with a "bad boy" image.
Jamaar Thomas' criminal record dates to 2000, when he and another man robbed a Taco Bell restaurant in North Charleston. In the years that followed that crime, he has been arrested and convicted of a variety of drug-related offenses, state records show.
In July 2004, sheriff's deputies arrested Thomas after he led military police on a chase through Charleston Air Force Base in a borrowed car with crack cocaine inside, authorities said. He was later convicted of failure to stop for blue lights.