Safe haven law expansion sought

Toys and stuffed dolls are left at a memorial at the Shillings Bridge landing in Orangeburg, where the car owned by Shaquan Duley was found with her two toddlers strapped in their car seats Aug. 18.

Mary Ann Chastain

COLUMBIA -- Two weeks after an Orangeburg mother confessed to killing her two toddlers, a Charleston legislator wants the state's safe haven law to include older children.

State Rep. Chip Limehouse said Tuesday he will push for a law allowing parents to safely abandon children up to 5 years old without punishment. The state's so-called Daniel's Law currently limits the no-penalty age to 30 days old.

Limehouse, a father of two, called it a reaction to the recent Orangeburg tragedy and a delayed response to the 1994 Susan Smith case, which he says has weighed on his mind ever since.

"If parents get up against the wall so bad that somehow their mind twists, and they believe in their twisted way that murdering their children is their way out of their situation, hopefully this new law would provide a pressure valve for this sort of evil behavior," said Limehouse, R-Charleston.

Limehouse said he expanded the age to 5 because children are in kindergarten by then and interacting with other adults who could hopefully spot a family's problems.

Under the current law, which dates to 2000, infants can be left anonymously at a hospital, police station, fire station, outpatient medical facility or any place of worship, as long as the child is left in an employee's hands. Limehouse's bill would add business hours of the Department of Social Services' state and local offices.

Since 2000, a dozen infants have been abandoned statewide under Daniel's Law, according to DSS.

"This may offer another opportunity for a parent who fears she may harm her child," agency spokeswoman Marilyn Matheus said.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have safe haven laws. Two states allow for safe abandonment of babies up to a year, but most states cap infants' ages at between 72 hours and a month, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Shaquan Duley, 29, is charged with suffocating her 2-year-old and 18-month-old sons in an Orangeburg motel, then strapping them into their cars seats Aug. 16 and letting the car roll into a river to try and cover up their deaths.

Authorities say she'd argued with her own mother, whom she and her three children lived with, about her parenting abilities and felt she could be free without the toddlers. Duley also has a 5-year-old daughter.

Her attorney, Carl Grant, refused to say whether Limehouse's proposal would have helped her because he didn't want to talk about the evidence. However, he added, "Naturally, it is good to have provisions where children can be dropped off and kept in a safe environment."

The tragic scene of children's bodies being pulled from a car in the water was eerily reminiscent of Smith's 1994 case. She is serving life in prison for killing her 3-year-old and 14-month-old sons by rolling her car into a lake in Union, with them strapped inside. They drowned.

"It chills you to your marrow to read the accounts of what happened to these poor children," said Limehouse, who plans to prefile his bill for the legislative session that starts in January.