BENNINGTON — A homeless woman is facing charges after her children were found covered in filth, infested with lice, and suffering numerous health problems from a lack of medical care.
Tajia Morway, 24, pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Vermont Superior Court Criminal Division Bennington Unit to felony counts of endangering a child under 2, and cruelty to a child. She also pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor counts of cruelty to a child. She was released without bail under a number of conditions, among them that she reside in Bennington County, and to not contact her children outside the rules laid out in a family court order.
According to an affidavit by Bennington Police Officer Thalia Hudson, on Aug. 24 Winhall Police Lt. Derrick Tienken was off-duty at the Bennington Little League Field on Park Street where he saw a pick-up truck bearing New York registration plates. Around the truck were four children. Each child appeared extremely dirty. They were with man and woman who appeared to be in their 20s. Tienken approached the woman and was told they had all spent the night there by the field as they were homeless. She had reached out to local social services, but they had been of no help. The woman, identified as Morway, said she only had $5 to her name and did not know where to go.
Tienken said he witnessed the two youngest children, ages 1 and 2, eating dog food out of a dog bowl. Both were in dirty diapers and covered in filth.
He told Morway they would not be able to stay at the Little League field, then purchased food from the nearby Burger King for the children to eat. He then called Bennington Police.
Hudson wrote that Morway told her they had just pulled in and were rearranging items in the truck so as not to get a ticket. When confronted with the story she told Tienken, Morway admitted they had in fact stayed the night there. They had been living near Grout Pond on National Forest land in a camper, but someone had run the camper off the road forcing them to move.
Hudson said she spoke with a DCF worker about this and learned the family was in a camper where they said, however they were evicted after only being allowed to stay 14 days.
Morway claimed the children bathe at a relative's house in Bennington, however a Department of Children and Families worker discovered this was not true, that the children had never been there to bathe.
Morway said that DCF had planned to put her and the children in a hotel, but her boyfriend, who is not the father of any of the children, would not be able to stay. Morway said this is why they declined the hotel room and opted to live in the truck. Morway and her boyfriend became upset when Hudson suggested she and the children stay in the hotel room while the boyfriend lived in the truck outside.
Hudson said she saw the 1-year-old female child in a filthy car seat. The child was infested with lice to the point where her hair could be seen moving. Hudson estimated there were hundreds, if not thousands, of lice on the child.
More police and several DCF workers were then summoned and the decision was made to take the four children into state custody. This angered both Morway and her boyfriend, identified as Stroah Topliff, 23. Topliss punched his truck several times, denting it. Morway also punched the truck. Both yelled and used obscenities.
The three youngest children were treated at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. On Aug. 26, Hudson received medical records from each child. All had wounds caused by continual scratching because of the lice and each was covered in dirt and some degree of fecal matter.
It was discovered that the 1-year-old had never been to a pediatrician and in addition to the lice infestation suffered an open wound caused by a fungus. The child made no attempt to verbally communicate and could not stand without support.
The 2-year-old, in addition to lice and filth, had an eyeglass prescription that was never filled and had also not been brought to several optometrist appointments. DCF investigators learned that at one of the appointments she did make the doctor found swelling on her optic nerve which may have been anything from benign swelling to a brain tumor. Follow-up appointments were made, but the child was never brought to them.
The 2-year-old had also been diagnosed with ankyloglossia otherwise known as "tongue-tied" a medical condition that affects the mobility of the tongue. Medical treatment was never sought for this, according to police.
The 4-year-old suffered from a fungal infection. "She was washed and treated for lice and it was reported that the lice slid down her back in a solid mass," wrote Hudson. "The water was black when they were done bathing her at SVMC."
Wiping the child down appeared to cause her pain, owing to her wounds.
The oldest child, nearly 8-years-old, was not evaluated at the emergency room. It was learned that the child was enrolled at a school in Gloversville, N.Y. where he had missed 42 days of school and been tardy five times.
DCF learned from Fulton County Department of Social Services (FCDSS) that investigators in New York had contacted Morway about the oldest child in June. According to FCDSS, the home the family was living in was rife with dog feces and urine. There was also a report made about Morway allegedly slapping one of the girls. After the FCDSS investigation was opened, Morway took her children to Vermont.
Hudson wrote that through her dealings with Morway, it appeared that Morway did not see the condition of the children as a problem and made a number of excuses.
— Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at 802-447-7567 Ext. 115