Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

New DCF reports detail Port Richey father's neglect toward twin daughters

PORT RICHEY — Caseworkers had told Thomas Ludwig not to leave bottles of formula propped in the babies' mouths. Newborns, who have little control of their neck muscles and swallowing reflex, can choke that way.

But on Dec. 20, according to reports, that's what Ludwig did: He propped a bottle against a pillow in front of his 2-month-old daughter, Diella. Then he left her and her twin sister, Shyloh, in the bedroom and went to check out a house fire down the street.

When Ludwig returned about 15 minutes later, according to new documents recently released by the Department of Children and Families, Diella wasn't breathing.

The documents, which include caseworkers' reports on the twins as well as an internal memo from DCF Secretary George Sheldon, revisit numerous turns where agencies and caseworkers failed to protect the babies. Not only did officials not communicate with each other, the documents show, they also failed to assess Ludwig's ability to care for the twins from the beginning, then took no action despite alarming signs he was neglecting them.

At the hospital, it was determined that Diella had inhaled a large amount of formula into her lungs. She died the next day.

But not from the formula.

Police reports say Ludwig's roommates had heard him yelling at the babies when they wouldn't stop crying. Then they heard a loud bang and the crying stopped.

Authorities later found Diella had bleeding and swelling in her brain — a result of shaken baby syndrome. They determined that caused her death.

Ludwig was charged earlier this year with first-degree murder. Shyloh is in foster care.

Ludwig, 24, had a history of criminal charges and drug use. Yet, the twins were placed in his care after they were born in prison to a mother who also used drugs.

Lessons to be drawn

Nicholle West, 30, remains incarcerated at Lowell Correctional Institution near Ocala. Because she already had three children removed from her custody, state officials got involved while she was pregnant with the twins.

But the different agencies involved — child welfare workers in Marion and Pasco counties as well as caseworkers for private agencies contracted by DCF — did not communicate with each other, Sheldon wrote in his memo.

The night Diella went to the hospital, the Pasco caseworker who responded knew little of West's situation.

"It is not known how long the mother has been in jail and there are no details surrounding her drug charges," the caseworker wrote.

This despite the information being available on publicly accessible Web sites.

Troubling facts about Ludwig's circumstances also failed to set off alarm bells among those working on the case.

Child protection workers who had checked on Ludwig and the babies found him living in a different location each time — three different places in a little more than a month.

His last residence, a rented house on Richwood Lane, had no electricity and was filthy, the documents say.

Ludwig had no crib set up for the twins, only pillows on the floor and a stroller for them to sleep in, the documents say. Investigators found that he yelled at the babies and called them names, and pushed their heads into pillows when they cried.

Despite the numerous signs of danger, and the numerous people and agencies having contact with Ludwig and the babies, Sheldon said, no one took the lead.

"This case re-emphasized the need for 'case champions' who will advocate for the children/family when barriers are identified and to ensure cases do not 'slip through the cracks,' " Sheldon wrote.

His memo, sent to other DCF managers, followed a meeting last month to review and draw lessons from the case. Among those in attendance were State Attorney Bernie McCabe and Pasco Sheriff Bob White.

"As we review this case," Sheldon wrote, "it is clear that inadequate and poor communication between individuals and agencies, a failure to follow established policies and procedures, and a lack of follow-through all contributed to this tragedy."

Molly Moorhead can be reached at or (727) 869-6245.

New DCF reports detail Port Richey father's neglect toward twin daughters 03/02/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 2, 2009 11:32pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Senate Obamacare effort dies; Rubio in favor of repeal, Nelson against


    WASHINGTON - The Senate Republican effort to Obamacare failed early Friday, with John McCain providing a decisive vote.

    The Senate vote
  2. Senate ponders health care bill it doesn't want to be law


    Buoyed by a signal from House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a pared-down health care bill late Thursday that he hoped would keep alive Republican ambitions to repeal Obamacare.

    Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., left, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., expressed concerns about passing the “skinny repeal” of Obamacare without assurances of further negotiations.
  3. Arrest made in shooting death of 19-year-old found in lot


    A 20-year-old Tampa man was arrested Thursday night for the shooting death of a 19-year-old whose body was discovered in a vacant lot on Tuesday.

  4. Rays fall to Yankees in 11 on Brett Gardner homer (w/ video)

    The Heater

    NEW YORK — The front office did its part Thursday, making two trades to bolster the roster in a push for the playoffs. But the Rays didn't follow up in a frustrating 6-5 11-inning loss to the Yankees.

    Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge stands on the mound and can only watch as the Yankees’ Brett Gardner starts to circle the bases after his walkoff home run leading off the 11th inning.
  5. Believe it! Rays are buyers, trade for reliever Dan Jennings and 1B/DH Lucas Duda

    The Heater

    NEW YORK — Dan Jennings' ability to render lefty hitters useless with a sinker that gets beaten into the ground and Lucas Duda's power to blast baseballs off and over outfield walls should make the Rays better.

    Lucas Duda