PARENTS ARE CHARGED IN DEATH CAUSED BY SALT

Relates to:
Date: 1988-05-19

Author: The Associated Press
Dateline: ROANOKE

The adoptive parents of a 4-year-old girl who died after eating a large quantity of salt were charged in her death after one of the couple's sons tipped off school officials, police said.

Jack Francis Riggs, 39, and Beth Michelle Riggs, 35, of Roanoke County, were charged with murder last night and were being held in the county jail in lieu of $100,000 bond each.

It was undetermined how much salt Heather Allison Riggs was forced to swallow before she was taken to the Community Hospital emergency room Monday. The girl was transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit, where her blood pressure dropped Tuesday and she suffered a heart attack.

"There was such a large level of sodium chloride in her body that it brought about heart failure," said Roanoke County Commonwealth's Attorney Skip Burkart. Sodium chloride is the chemical name for table salt.

Yesterday, one or more of the Riggs' four natural sons, ages 7 to 13, reported to officials at Glen Cove Elementary School that their sister might have been abused, said Sheriff Mike Kavanaugh. School officials took the information to the county Child Protective Services Division, who contacted the Sheriff's Department.

"The channels worked well," Kavanaugh said. "The school system and Child Protective Services are to be commended."

Authorities refused to disclose details about the events at the Riggs home that allegedly led to the child's death.

Kavanaugh said he was not certain whether salt was used as a punishment for the girl, who was born in Colombia and adopted by the couple. It was not known how long she had lived with the Riggses.

The couple's sons were taken into custody and placed in the care of Child Protective Services, Kavanaugh said. They also will be examined for signs of abuse.

In a similar case in Buena Vista eight years ago, Diana Pugh, then 30, was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of her 3-year-old daughter, Mary Pugh.

While trying to wean the child from her bottle, Mrs. Pugh poured a 2- ounce can of pepper down her daughter's throat until she suffocated, according to a statement she gave Buena Vista police.

A medical examiner testified that the girl's stomach, trachea and lungs were filled with pepper. A hospital emergency room doctor said that when rescue workers forced a tube down her throat to try to get air into her lungs, it came back filled with pepper.

Mrs. Pugh was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

"That's the sort of situation we're talking about here," Commonwealth's Attorney Burkart said.

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