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Lakeland baby starves in a well-stocked home

LAKELAND — The pantry and refrigerator were full of juice, pasta, snacks and canned food — plenty to fill the bellies of the two adults and five children who lived in the house on Sunshine Drive.

But not enough for the baby.

Only 2 ounces of formula were found Monday in the home where paramedics pronounced an emaciated 5-month-old girl dead. She weighed just 6 pounds.

Chauntasia Gardner starved to death in a house with more beer than infant formula, investigators said, and the Polk County Sheriff's Office blames the parents. Tivasha E. Logan, 25, and her boyfriend, Chauncey Gardner, 27, were charged with first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse.

"It is mind-boggling," Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said. "I've done this job my entire adult life, and I've seen a lot of violence against children and babies, but I can't ever remember seeing one starve to death. This child was tortured for days on end until she finally died from starvation."

This wasn't a famine-plagued region. There was no water shortage or crop failure. This was Lakeland.

The family lived a mile from the nearest grocery store and in walking distance of two churches. Logan had Medicaid and received Social Security Income and food stamps. She also participated in the county's Women, Infants & Children program, which provides some formula.

Investigators even found a $674 Social Security check that Logan received on Nov. 1 specifically for the infant.

Still, Logan watered down the formula at a 3-1 ratio, not 1-1 as the label instructed, the arrest report states. She told deputies that she never read the label; she said Gardner told her 3-1 was correct.

"It's absolutely appalling," Polk County Commissioner Ed Smith said. "It's unbelievable that anybody would starve a child to death. Your own flesh and blood; it's just unbelievable."

Paramedics went to the house at 2710 Sunshine Drive N in response to a call about a child who was not breathing. When deputies arrived, she was laying on the floor, her ribs and spine visible, her eyes sunken and her skin loose and wrinkled.

Judd said the parents were in denial and couldn't see what they had done wrong. They haven't offered an explanation, he said.

Logan and Gardner never took Chauntasia to the doctor, the arrest report said. The baby was born prematurely on May 11 but released on July 29 at a healthy weight of 7 pounds and 8 ounces.

Three months later, she didn't weigh even that much.

When told the baby's weight, a Tampa pediatrician gasped.

"Oh, my God, 6 pounds?" said Dr. Christina Paulson. "Six pounds would be way, way, way below the third percentile," she said as she looked at a chart. "It's not even on the curve. … If that baby came into the office, we'd have sent them to the hospital."

The average weight for a 5-month-old is about 14 pounds, she said.

Logan told detectives that she tried several times to get an appointment with a doctor but couldn't because none would accept her Medicaid.

However, her mother, Vonda Stewart, told investigators that she confronted Logan two weeks ago and urged her to take the baby to the doctor because of weight loss. Logan told her mom that she had gone to a doctor and that Chauntasia weighed 8 pounds.

When a detective confronted Logan with that statement, she said she had lied to get her mother off her back, Judd said. She then admitted she had noticed her baby losing a lot of weight about two weeks ago, but feared she would get in trouble if she took her to the hospital, the arrest report states. She thought the staff would notify the Department of Children and Families.

Paulson said doctors are required to report suspected abuse and neglect, but DCF spokeswoman Carrie Hoeppner said the department doesn't immediately remove children in every circumstance. First, it tries to provide support.

"Your child's medical needs, their safety, always comes first," she said. "If there's any way we can support a family and not remove the child, we will."

The infant never made it to the Tuesday doctor's appointment that Logan told detectives she had made.

Hoeppner said that Logan and Gardner have been investigated four times in the past, between 2000 and 2007. Sometimes there were indicators of inadequate supervision, and other times there weren't, Hoeppner said, but there was never enough to warrant removing the children from the home.

For now, the five children are with a relative, and the DCF is working to keep them together, she said.

Three of the children — ages 4, 3 and 2 — belong to both Gardner and Logan, and Logan's two additional children — ages 10 and 6 — also lived with them. Gardner told deputies that he has fathered 10 children.

Gardner and Logan have each previously been convicted of several crimes. Gardner's convictions include possession of cocaine and driving under the influence, and Logan's include driving under the influence and resisting arrest.

They were held without bail.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

Lakeland baby starves in a well-stocked home 11/04/09 [Last modified: Thursday, November 5, 2009 10:24am]

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