Conecuh County couple charged in child abuse
EVERGREEN — A Conecuh County couple remained in jail in lieu of $1.5 million bail each Friday after authorities charged the foster parents with trying to kill a 2-year-old boy in their care.
Investigators said the boy remains in intensive care at Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola.
The child arrived May 11 in cardiac arrest, officers said, and medical workers said the boy was severely dehydrated. Doctors discovered the boy had a massive injury to his brain, and evidence of blunt-force trauma to his head and bruising on his body consistent with repeated intentional abuse, officers said.
Conecuh County District Attorney Tommy Chapman said he believes the case, in which the couple was caring for up to eight foster children at a time in their trailer, warrants an investigation into the foster care system in the county. And Chapman said if the state does not investigate, he will.
"This is likely the most horrendous child abuse case I have prosecuted," Chapman said. "This child certainly suffered."
Authorities arrested Joyce Ann Savage Sims, 41, and her husband, Lonnell Sims, 51, on Thursday after an investigation by Evergreen police and the Alabama Bureau of Investigation.
Investigators said officers responded to the Sims residence on Old Greenville Road at about 7:30 a.m. May 11 after a woman reported a child was not responsive.
Officers said they found the 2-year-old boy barely breathing and with a faint pulse. Emergency medical responders immediately called for Lifeflight, which took the boy to Sacred Heart, the officers said.
The child survived surgery, officers said, and after days of life support was breathing on his own Friday, though doctors told officials the child likely will need lifelong care due to significant brain damage.
Pediatric abuse specialist Dr. Randall Alexander told Conecuh authorities the damage was equivalent to the child being injured in an automobile crash or being dropped from a two-story building.
Investigators said Joyce Sims first said the child had a seizure while she dressed him for day care, then said he fell down stairs or fell from a swing, none of which explained the injuries. Officers said they believe the child likely had not had food or water for 48 hours prior to being hospitalized.
"Based on the information doctors provided us," Chapman said, "we authorized warrants for both foster parents, charging them with attempted murder and two counts of aggravated battery on a child."
Chapman called on state authorities to investigate the Conecuh County Department of Human Resources, writing a letter to state DHR Commissioner Nancy T. Bucker asking for a full review of foster parent selection, monitoring and training in the county.
Chapman also asked that authorities research DHR efforts to place children with family members. Investigators said relatives of the 2-year-old and two siblings, also in the Sims' care, had sought custody but were blocked by DHR representatives.
According to a letter Chapman released Friday, if the state agency does not report findings in 60 days, Chapman will convene a special grand jury and conduct his own investigation.
Alabama DHR spokesman Barry Spear said he had not seen the letter, and could not comment.
Authorities said 2-year-old and his siblings had been removed from their home by DHR in January due to their biological parents' alleged drug use. Their biological father died weeks ago of an apparent drug overdose and their mother has been in a rehabilitation program, officials said.
Two other children also were in the Sims' care at the time of their arrest. All have been removed from the household, investigators said. Officers said the state agency pays about $230 a month per child for foster care.
Photographs of the home showed a well-kept house with several televisions, one wide-screen TV and several rooms with twin beds. A small area in the back yard separated by a chain-link fence contained plastic toys and swings with overgrown grass and fire ant beds. A tall privacy fence concealed the play area in the back of the house.