By DANA WILLHOIT
The Ledger

POLK DEPUTIES SEEK THE MOTHER

Baby’s Body Discovered In Trash Bin

Officials try to determine when and how the newborn girl died.

By DANA WILLHOIT
The Ledger
Published: Wednesday, May 10, 2006 at 12:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 10, 2006 at 11:38 a.m.

LAKELAND — Tuesday afternoon, under the spreading branches of a tall oak tree, Polk County sheriff’s deputies picked through a trash bin that had become a newborn baby girl’s gravesite.

Crime scene technician Jessica Walguarnery records video of the trash bin where the body was found.

Crime scene supervisor Roberta Case carries infant’s remains from the scene.

No one knew whether she died there or somewhere else, or whether she was born alive or dead.

They only knew that someone stuffed her into a white plastic bag, and then into a green plastic bag, and threw her in with the trash.

Sheriff’s officials said they hope an autopsy will determine how and when the baby died. Late Tuesday they were still trying to find the child’s mother.

A white full-size Ford pickup truck, driven by a white female, was seen early in the day in the area of the dumpster where the baby was found, and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office is asking anyone who might know her identity to call them at (863) 533-0344.

They are also looking for any information about the identity of the baby’s mother. The mother may be seeking medical attention, and sheriff’s deputies are contacting local hospitals, as well as canvassing the neighborhood in the area where the body was found.

A maintenance man, Kenneth Crisp, found the baby in the bin a little after 2 p.m. at the Hendley Apartment complex at 5436 Lewellyn Road near Kathleen Road.

He said he checks the garbage occasionally to look for clues to the identity of people who put trash in the private bin illegally.

“A tenant came by my apartment this afternoon, just to chitchat, and he said that he heard someone using the Dumpster at around 5:30 a.m.,” Crisp said.

Crisp went outside to check and, at the top of the trash bin, on piles of garbage, found a green plastic bag. He pulled it open, and inside was a white plastic bag.

“I opened the bag, and . . .” Crisp said, his voice trailing off and eyes filling with tears. He tapped nervously on a Mountain Dew bottle clenched in one hand and shifted from foot to foot before he could finish his sentence. ” . . . a baby’s head fell into my hand,” he sobbed.

The baby’s hair was black and she was a purplish color, he said. She was wrapped in what looked like a purple bath towel.

“That freaked me out, so I ran and told the landlord that I just found a dead infant,” Crisp said.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office was called at 2:25 p.m.

Crisp, who is epileptic, was so distraught he suffered a seizure and an ambulance was called for him.

Hours later, on his feet again, he paced the road in front of the apartment complex. He was waiting for his daughter to bring his infant granddaughter over for a visit.

“I just want to hug her,” he said.

He shook his head. “I’m kind of sorry that I looked in that bag, but I’m glad I did look, because that baby didn’t belong in no Dumpster. Trash belongs in a Dumpster.”

Nearby, sheriff’s deputies stood on a ladder to snap pictures of the baby where she lay among the garbage. Big squares of yellow crime scene tape hemmed in the trash bin.

The baby was removed from the bin at 5:30 p.m. and carried to the Forensics Investigations Unit van. There she was examined by Dr. Vera Volnikh, an associate medical examiner.

Volnikh said the baby girl was white or Hispanic and that she was newborn, according to Capt. Mike Pruitt.

Her cause of death has not yet been determined, Pruitt said. Dr. Volnikh took her to the Medical Examiner’s Office to do an autopsy.

Pruitt said it had been many years since the Sheriff’s Office investigated a case in which an abandoned baby had died.

In August 2002 a baby was left in a hospital parking lot at the Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center. The baby boy was found alive by construction workers and was in good condition.

Under a state law passed in 2000, any mother who leaves an infant 3 days old or younger at a fire station, emergency medical service facility or a hospital will not be charged with a crime.

“There’s plenty of places out there that the child could have been taken,” Pruitt said.

The Sheriff’s Office asked for the public’s help in finding the mother.

“If anyone knows someone who was recently pregnant and now isn’t, and there’s no sign of a baby, or someone who just had a baby but now they don’t have the baby anymore, we’d like to hear from them,” Pruitt said.

The mother may be seeking medical attention as well, Pruitt said.

Callers may reach the Sheriff’s Office at 800-226-0344 or they may call 800-534-6200 and ask to speak to homicide detectives.

Dana Willhoit can be reached at dana.willhoit@theledger.com or 863-802-7550.