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Saunsoci-Mitchell case: Family wants answers, arrest


Molly Montag

For more than eight months, Tisha Vega has been wanted for manslaughter in the death of her 20-month-old foster child, Nathaniel Saunsoci-Mitchell.

She is accused of causing the Omaha Indian boy's death in late 2006 but as of Friday afternoon had not been arrested. Although authorities would not discuss her whereabouts, public documents indicate Vega and her husband, Carlos, live in the eastern Pennsylvania town of Oaks.

Nathaniel's biological family says the boy deserves justice.

"Any time a life is lost, you want answers," said Eleanor Baxter, Nathaniel's great-grandmother. "So far we haven't got answers."

Authorities initially provided little information about efforts to find Vega. However, the Dakota County Sheriff's Office said Friday officials were attempting to contact Pennsylvania authorities after the Journal provided information about the Oaks address.

The circumstances surrounding Nathaniel's life -- and his death -- were complicated.

He was a fragile child, suffering from severe asthma and food allergies, taken from a teen mother who battled substance abuse. Nathaniel was placed with an Iowa foster family, next with relatives on the Omaha Indian Reservation and then with his final family -- Carlos and Tisha Vega.

During his stay with the Vegas, he suffered serious injuries -- a broken leg, broken clavicle and dog bite on the face -- before he was hospitalized Sept. 22, 2006, with a fatal brain injury. He died two days later.

The case stalled for almost two years, until an arrest warrant for Tisha Vega was issued July 11.

The case

Former co-workers say Tisha Vega, 34, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, worked as a public health nurse at Carl T. Curtis Health Center on the Omaha Indian Reservation in Macy, Neb.

She and her husband lived at 409 Southridge Drive in South Sioux City. Nathaniel was one of five tribal foster children in the home, which also included five of the couple's own children.

In the months after Nathaniel's death, former Dakota County Attorney Ed Matney said potential suspects included the Vegas and an unnamed baby sitter. He said the child was at a baby sitter's house earlier on the day he died but had been at the Vegas' house "several hours" before being taken to the hospital.

A search warrant application alleges Nathaniel suffered fatal, nonaccidental injuries while with Tisha Vega at her home. An accompanying affidavit alleges that Tisha Vega injured and killed Nathaniel "without malice upon a sudden quarrel or unintentionally while in the commission of an unlawful act."

Carlos and Tisha Vega left South Sioux City after Nathaniel's death but before officials announced they were suspects.

Authorities said the couple went to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in western South Dakota, headquarters of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and moved several times after that.

According to Dakota County Assessor's Office records of the sale of the Southridge Drive house, which closed Dec. 29, Carlos and Tisha Vega listed their new address as 1311 Egypt Road in Oaks, Pa.

The city is northwest of Philadelphia, just north of Valley Forge National Historic Park.

The assessor's document is dated Jan. 7, but Carlos Vega listed the same address as the location of his business, La Juanita Drywall, in a Pennsylvania Department of State filing dated March 2.

The phone number listed in online advertisements for the business is the same number the couple gave local real estate professionals when selling their home.

Betty Sherr, the Century 21 agent who handled the sale, said she did not know there was an arrest warrant for Tisha Vega. Sherr said she believed Tisha Vega had been back to the Sioux City area three or four times to deal with the sale.

Only rumors

Jacki Saunsoci, Nathaniel's mother, says most of what she hears about the investigation into her son's death are rumors from her relatives. Several months ago the rumor was that the case had been closed, although that wasn't true.

"I still think about (Nathaniel) every day," Saunsoci said, tears filling her eyes. "I don't know what to believe because I have my own thoughts."

Although she used to be in contact with Matney, the former county attorney, Jacki Saunsoci said she stopped calling him when the case stalled. She has not been in contact with Dakota County Attorney Kim Watson, who was elected last year.

"It always seemed to me like they never even tried," Saunsoci said. "(That) they just let it go."

South Sioux City Police Chief Scot Ford, whose department investigated Nathaniel's death, said the case had been turned over to the county attorney for prosecution.

Nebraska State Patrol investigator Doug Johnson, who signed the arrest warrant application, declined to comment on the investigation and referred questions to Watson's office.

Staffers in Watson's office told the Journal earlier this month that someone had been charged in the case but did not say who.

On Friday, the Journal provided information about the Egypt Road address and Carlos Vega's business to a member of Watson's staff and to the Dakota County Sheriff's Office.

Watson said there was nothing to update in the case until Vega is arrested. She said any information on attempts to find Vega should come from law enforcement.

Dakota County Sheriff's Deputy Mike Kreegar said Friday he was trying to make contact with Pennsylvania authorities to learn more about the Vegas' whereabouts. A decision to arrest Tisha Vega, if she's found, hinges on whether Watson's office would extradite Vega to Nebraska, he said.

Watson did not return a phone message Friday asking whether she would pursue extradition.


-- Jan. 20, 2005 --Nathaniel Saunsoci-Mitchell, son of Nathan Mitchell and Jacki Saunsoci, is born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

-- January 2006 -- Iowa authorities place Nathaniel in foster care after they take custody from his mother, who is seeking substance-abuse treatment.

-- Feb. 24, 2006 -- Woodbury County Juvenile Court transfers custody of Nathaniel to the Omaha Tribe, saying his case falls under the Indian Child Welfare Act. Tribal authorities place him with his mother's sister, Tiara.

-- Summer of 2006 -- Tribal authorities remove Nathaniel from his relatives and place him with Carlos and Tisha Vega, of South Sioux City. Authorities say he was one of 10 children in the household, which included five Tribal foster children and five of the Vegas' own children.

-- July 11-27, 2006 -- Authorities believe a dog bit Nathaniel in the face during this time while he is in the care of Tisha Vega.

-- Sept. 1-13, 2006 -- Nathaniel allegedly fractures his left tibia while in the care of Tisha Vega.

-- Sept. 22, 2006 -- Nathaniel arrives at Mercy Medical Center -- Sioux City with a head injury.

-- Sept. 24, 2006 -- Nathaniel dies at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

-- July 11, 2008 -- An arrest warrant is issued for Tisha Vega, 34. She's wanted for a charge of manslaughter. Court documents allege Nathaniel suffered fatal injuries while in her custody at her home.

2009 Mar 22