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Miller trial enters second day


March 27, 2009

Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]

The negligent homicide trial of Sharon Miller in the drowning death of 6-month-old Jenna Unruh continued Thursday, with testimony including the defense asking the mother of the child if she had removed safety features from the bathing seat Jenna was in when she drowned and the 911 dispatcher if she had been trained to help 911 callers deal with emergencies. Katie Unruh, mother of Jenna, said she did remove a safety arm from the bath seat designed to hold the seat to the side of a bathtub to provide stability. When asked by defense co-counsel to read a section of the seat's manual that states the seat should not be used if damaged or disassembled, and that it should only be used if attached to a bath tub, she said she would read the entire page of the manual including that instruction. “Babies can drown in as little as one inch of water,” Unruh read from the first warning. “Always bathe your infant using as little water as necesSary. “Never leave the infant unattended,” she also read from the instructions. According to court documents and the attorney's opening statements, Miller on Aug. 29, 2006, was watching Jenna and another child, 5 months old, when she began to bathe Jenna in a utility sink using a Safety 1st bath seat. She said she left the room with the utility sink to change the other child's diaper when the child began to “scream,” a court document said, and when she returned found Jenna with her head in the water. Miller called 911, and an ambulance was dispatched. The emergency medical technicians who responded performed CPR on the infant, then transported her to a medical center in Chinook. After the staff at the medical center attempted unsuccessfully to revive Jenna, she was pronounced dead at 10:21 a.m. The prosecution contends that Miller put too much water in the sink while bathing Jenna about 6 inches and was negligent in leaving the infant in the bath while changing the other child's diaper. Miller's defense contends that the defendant left the infant only for a moment, that the bath seat had been improperly modified and that Miller was told to use it improperly in a utility sink rather than a bathtub and that the failure of the Blaine County Sheriff's office to train dispatchers to help people calling with a 911 emergency contributed to Jenna's death. Farmer asked Katie Unruh if anything in the instructions for the bath seat say it is all right to ignore some of the warnings in the manual while holding to others. The manual states that the seat should only be used while the arm is locked over the side of a bath tub and should not be used if damaged or disassembled, as well as stating that the caregiver should never be more than an arm's reach away from the child. Unruh said the manual says nothing about disregarding some warnings, but also said that it was impossible to use the seat with the tub in her residence in Chinook. That tub is an inset tub, in which the manual states the seat cannot be used, she said. Unruh said she removed the safety arm because it would not fit in the utility sink, which she installed so she could use it to bathe Jenna, and removing the arm allowed it to sit flush in the sink. Farmer asked Unruh if she could verify that there was no way Miller could see Jenna while she was in the other room if she had ever looked at the sink to see if she would be able to see her daughter. “No, because I was by the sink,” Unruh testified. “I never left the sink.” Unruh said, while Blaine County Attorney Donald Ranstrom re-examined her, that she would not even leave the sink while bathing Jenna. “I never did. Even if the phone rang I wouldn't answer it,” she said. Also examined during the trial Thursday was Darlene Leland of Havre, who works as a dispatcher for the Blaine County Sheriff's Office. Leland took the 911 calls made by Miller on Aug. 29, 2006, when she found Jenna with her head in the water. Defense co-counsel Carl White asked if Leland had said in an interview that she said Blaine County had not given sufficient training to its dispatchers to help people deal with an emergency like an infant drowning. “No, I said we don't have the training,” Leland testified. Leland told White that it is normal for dispatchers to give common-sense advice to callers, such as not to enter a residence if they believe an intruder is inside, but that giving detailed instructions such as about a medical procedure to a distraught caller is not something dispatchers normally do. “We're not adequately trained to give those instructions to the caller,” she said. Leland told White that she does know that step-bystep instructions to read procedures like infant CPR to a caller do exist, but are not available to the Blaine County dispatchers. Leland read from the dispatch log the first call by Miller. She requested help for a 6-month-old infant, who she said was not breathing, Leland read. Miller ended the call after being told help would be dispatched, Leland testified. Miller called again seven minutes later to ask when the ambulance would arrive, Leland said. Leland paged the Blaine County emergency medical crews, who responded and had called to say they were en route to the hospital with the infant 13 minutes after Miller originally called, Leland testified.


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