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Death of toddler in foster care ruled a homicide


Death of toddler in foster care ruled a homicide

August 22, 2006

Norman Sinclair and Santiago Esparza

The Detroit News

DETROIT -- For the second time in seven months Matt and Jennifer Lethbridge are mourning the death of one of their children in a foster home.

Police said the death last week of 2-year-old Isaac Lethbridge was a homicide. The Wayne County Medical Examiner's office said the boy suffered blunt force injuries.

On Feb. 23 his 12-year-old sister, Ashleigh Marie Copeland, died of a grand mal seizure in another foster home, Jennifer Lethbridge said.

Police were called Wednesday afternoon to a home in the 18000 block of Grand Lawn after Charlise Rogers, the home's operator, said the child was unresponsive in his crib. The infant was pronounced dead on arrival at Children's Hospital of Michigan.

"We are devastated," Matt Lethbridge said of his son's death.

Albert Samuels, the chief investigator for the Wayne County medical examiner, said Isaac had an injury to his forehead and buttocks. The boy's 4-year-old sister, also had been in Rogers' care, was removed to another foster home, Jennifer Lethbridge said.

The Lethbridges were separated last September when the children were removed by Child Protective Services because of filthy conditions at home, Matt Lethbridge said. He said he and his wife have reconciled, moved to Whitmore Lake, and were trying to regain custody of the children when Isaac died.

"If this had happened in our home we would be in jail right now," Matt Lethbridge said. "But there are no suspects? That is what angers me."

Jennifer Lethbridge said they have been in contact with police but referred questions to their lawyer, Geoffrey Fieger.

The state Department of Human Services at 6 p.m. Monday suspended the license of the Lula Belle Stewart Center Inc. with intent to revoke the license, the state announced today in a press release. The center placed Isaac and his sister in the home on Greenlawn.

A compliant with the state was filed Friday because of the circumstances of Isaac's death, said Department of Human Services spokeswoman Maureen Sorbet.

The state's investigation found violations of administrative rules for reevaluating foster homes, service plans for foster children, staff qualifications, license recommendations, special evaluations, visitations and reporting of child abuse or neglect.

The suspension means the center cannot accept any new children for placement or care. Sorbet said the department moved quickly when notified of the death.

"We try to get out as quick as we can," she said. "Given the gravity of the situation, we responded very rapidly."

It could take up to 60 days before the state can revoke the license, Sorbet said.

Founded in 1972 as the Florence Crittendon Home of Detroit, the center's new owners have had a license to operate a child-placing agency since July 15, 1993, according to state records. The center's 2003 annual report showed its budget consisted of about $3.4 million and it came from a variety of sources. More recent reports were not posted on the center's Web site.

The center focuses on placing an "emphasis on the delivery of services to pregnant and parenting teens and young adults, the center's current mission also includes the delivery of services to neglected, abused, and delinquent children and youth and their families, as well as other vulnerable populations," according to its Web site.

Lula Belle management was not available for comment.

You can reach Santiago Esparza at (313) 222-2127 or sesparza@detnews.com.

2006 Aug 22