'76 AUTOPSY RECORDED INJURIES TO INFANT; NO INQUEST WAS HELD IN BABY'S DEATH, BUT CASE NOW GETTING SECOND LOOK

Date: 1993-11-17

Author: ADRIANA COLINDRES

A Morton infant whose 17- year-old remains were exhumed last week died from a head injury that her mother said was the result of an accidental fall, Peoria County Coroner Herb Buzbee said Tuesday.

But coroner's records available near the baby's time of death also indicate that the child's body showed evidence of older, healed wounds, Buzbee said. Those injuries were a fractured collar bone and fractures on both legs, he said.

There was no inquest into the death.

Buzbee said he was notified about the death of Danielle Christine Neal on Sept. 3, 1976 -- one day after the baby died at Saint Francis Medical Center. The 1-year-old girl been a patient there since Aug. 30. An autopsy on the child already had been performed by the time Buzbee was called, he said.

"Everything was very vague," he recalled. "Somebody erred in not calling us when the child died."

The coroner is supposed to be contacted in any death involving trauma, Buzbee said.

Cause of death for the child was listed as brain edema, which is fluid in the brain caused by trauma, Buzbee said. Someone -- apparently the child's mother -- told officials at the time that the child had fallen, Buzbee said.

"The story was she fell backwards, striking her head," Buzbee said, and the death was recorded as having occurred accidentally.

"I did as much as I could do with the facts at the time," said Buzbee, who added that he has not been contacted by the Tazewell County authorities conducting an investigation into the child's death.

Tazewell County Assistant State's Attorney Kirk Schoenbein wouldn't comment Tuesday on any aspect of the investigation, including whether authorities suspect child abuse. He said investigators still are pursuing leads in the case.

The infant's remains were removed from her grave at Roberts Cemetery Nov. 9 after representatives from the Tazewell County sheriff's and state's attorney's offices got a court order allowing the action. An autopsy was conducted, and the remains were reburied.

Danielle Neal was the daughter of Glenn and Vicky Neal, former Morton residents who were living in Toledo, Ohio, when the child died.

Authorities have yet to say where the child sustained her injuries, but the Neals did live in Morton until shortly before the baby's death. The Journal Star was unable to locate the Neals for comment on Tuesday.

The infant was born in Korea and brought to the United States by the Neals in April 1976.

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