Pa. sitter gets jail term in baby's death

April 18, 2012|By DON AINES |
  • Dottie Mae Bowers
Franklin County (Pa.) Jail

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — A Shippensburg, Pa., woman was sentenced Wednesday in Franklin County Court to six to 23 months in the county jail for her role in the death of a 10-month-old boy who sustained fatal head injuries at the hands of another child while in her care.

Dottie Mae Bowers, 57, of 127 Benelton Drive, pleaded no contest in February to a first-degree misdemeanor charge of endangering the welfare of a child.

Judge Carol Van Horn made Bowers eligible for early release, but ordered her to spend three years on probation following her release from jail.

Bowers must also pay more than $62,000 in restitution to the family of Heath Ryder and an insurance company.

The small courtroom was packed with family and supporters of Heath Ryder’s family, as well as Bowers, with some people having to sit outside the courtroom in the second-floor lobby of the courthouse.

On July 29, 2010, Bowers, a baby sitter for 28 years, found Heath Ryder unresponsive when she went to wake him from a nap, according to the affidavit of probable cause filed by Pennsylvania State Police.

That occurred at about 2:50 p.m., and Bowers did not call 911. And she did not try to call the boy’s mother, Shelly Ryder, until 3:26 p.m., finally making contact with her at 3:37 p.m., the charging documents said.

It was Shelly Ryder who called 911 at 3:47 p.m., after she arrived at Bowers’ home and tried to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation, the documents said.

“It is that 57 minutes of your inexcusable failure to act” for which Bowers was being sentenced, Van Horn told the defendant. “You failed Heath in your duty of care.”

Van Horn noted that many supporters of Bowers spoke about how she has suffered since the tragedy and advocated forgiveness for her.

“Forgiveness is not for the court to dictate,” Van Horn said. “While the criminal-justice system cannot heal the pain, it can provide accountability.”

Heath Ryder died Aug. 2, 2010, of head trauma investigators believe was caused by another child in the house. The girl was charged as an adult with third-degree homicide, but her case was transferred to juvenile court after a hearing before Van Horn in April 2011.

The girl was 10 years old at the time of that hearing. Franklin County District Attorney Matt Fogal said after Bowers’ sentencing that the case against the girl is pending.

“There’s nothing any worse in your life than when they pull that plug,” Mark Ryder, Heath’s father, told Van Horn of his son’s death.

The boy might not have died had he not been left unattended, he said.

“My mother doesn’t deserve to go to prison,” her son, Dave Bowers Jr., told Van Horn. “She’s been in her own emotional prison .... I hate seeing her suffer like this.”

“I was terrified. All I could think to do was call (his) mom,” Dottie Bowers told Van Horn before the judge passed sentence.

“She didn’t call 911 quickly enough because she panicked,” Bowers’ attorney, Joseph Caraciolo, told Van Horn.

It was not her failure to call 911 that resulted in the child’s death, he said.

Caraciolo had asked Van Horn to give his client probation.

Van Horn also denied a motion to delay the beginning of Bowers’ sentence to allow an appeal to be filed.

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