GIRL TRIED TO PROTECT SELF
EXPERT CITES PATTERN OF TOT'S BLEACH BURNS
July 30, 1993
Dayton Daily News
Six-year-old Hannah Carroll raised her left arm "in a protective position" to try to stop bleach from getting poured on her - and then suffered horribly after it was allowed to soak into her skin for at least an hour, an expert testified Thursday.
That testimony directly conflicts with her Cedarville family's account of the incident - which experts called "incredulous" and "impossible." Family members have said Hannah poured the bleach on herself, got immediate attention for the accident, and acted normally until her death three days later. Presented in the third day of a Greene County coroner's inquest into the deaths of Hannah and three fellow adopted siblings, the testimony by a nationally recognized authority on burns compelled two top county officials to consider further action.
Coroner Manoj Desai on Thursday recessed the inquest, but said he considers it "open and active," and said it could be reconvened to call new witnesses or recall previous witnesses.
Prosecutor William F. Schenck said he intends to ask a grand jury to consider more charges involving Hannah's death and other facts that came to light during the inquest. He also said he could seek revocation of a guilty plea on a neglect charge previously given by the girl's parents, Kathleen and Timothy Carroll.
The Carrolls had adopted 10 children, all of whom had physical, mental or emotional problems.
"The plea agreement was based on the assumption that all parties were being truthful and acting in good faith," Schenck said. "There are so many conflicting accounts . . . things happened that I did not expect. . . . It compels me to take a look at it a little differently."
The Carrolls' lawyer, John H. Rion of Dayton, disputed Schenck's characterization, saying, "There's no question that the parties are acting in good faith . . . I have absolutely no reason not to believe their explanations (for Hannah's death)."
After the little girl died Sept. 21, the Carrolls were charged with involuntary manslaughter, a felony punishable by a 10-year prison term and a $5,000 fine. In January, they were allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge, contributing to the neglect of a child. They were given a year's probation for that misdemeanor conviction.
When told of the testimony presented at Thursday's session, Rion said, "You have to put hypothetical opinion into context. You have the testimony of eyewitnesses saying one thing, and theoreticians saying another thing . . . . Experts come to different conclusions."
However, the "eyewitnesses" to whom Rion referred didn't see the bleach accident; the family's story puts Hannah alone in the laundry room at the time.
Hannah's speech therapist, Cathy Pravel of St. Elizabeth Rehabilitation Center, testified that the little girl, who had Down syndrome, was only capable of speaking one or two words at once. "Then how did Hannah tell this complicated story?" Desai asked, referring to the family's account.
Dr. Glenn Donald Warden, chief of staff of Shriners Burns Institute in Cincinnati since 1985, said photos, medical reports and his own experiments contradict the family's account. A man whose credentials fill 44 pages, Warden "is probably the country's foremost burns expert," Schenck said.
He said the Carroll family had to know Hannah needed medical treatment. In his 23 years in working with burns, Warden said he'd never seen a case as bad as Hannah's go untreated. She suffered second-degree burns over 27 percent of her body, and to the cornea of her left eye.
"Burns are painful. They're probably the most painful injury we can sustain," he said.
Compounded by the burned eye, the child's pain had to be "almost incomprehensible," Warden said.
Her injuries were life-threatening but she could've been saved if treated. Hannah died from burn shock - something that happens as a result of the body's own defense mechanisms.
Fluids rush to the burned areas, leaving little fluid in other parts of the body. As a result, the body shuts down the digestive system and next causes the kidneys to fail in order to allow continued nourishment of the brain and heart, Warden explained.
Autopsy reports show Hannah was extremely dehydrated and her kidneys were failing. Given these facts, he said, there's no way the child could've been acting normally, as the family said.
The autopsy report notes her entire digestive and waste tracts were empty - which would take about 24 hours without food, other witnesses said.
The burn was so serious that it would've required skin grafting "on the entire front of her chest" and Warden said a burn that serious couldn't possibly have been caused by exposure to bleach for only about five minutes, as family members stated.
He knows because he put bleach on his own forearm as an experiment, he said.
"It burns like hell," he said, noting that he gave himself a first-degree burn by allowing the chemical to remain on his skin for 30 minutes. He estimated the bleach would probably have had to remain undisturbed on Hannah for at least an hour to cause the burns apparent in photographs. The photographs show large areas of bleeding, open flesh.
Noting a pattern of burned and unburned areas, Warden said he was able to determine Hannah's position at the time she was exposed to the chemical. To protect an area that was spared on her left chest, yet burn an area on her left arm, that arm had to be raised in a "defensive . . . protective position," he said.
She also had to have been seated because bleach seeped down to burn the bottoms of her buttocks yet spared her lower abdomen. Creases in skin created when a person sits account for the unburned abdominal area, he said.