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Polk sheriff: Mother's 'co-sleeping' caused the deaths of two newborns

A 25-year-old Polk County woman was arrested on a charge of aggravated manslaughter of a child after detectives said her habit of "co-sleeping" with her newborn baby, Javier, led to his death in October. He was 18 days old.

It was the second time Erin Piche-Pitts lost a newborn child to co-sleeping, according to the Polk County Sheriff's Office, which is when a newborn is allowed to sleep in a normal bed, rather than in a crib. In 2009, deputies said the mother engaged in the same practice when she lost her first child, Angelina, who died 13 days after she was born.

The mother was arrested on Tuesday. Polk Sheriff Grady Judd announced her arrest and the results of the investigation at a news conference Wednesday.

"This lady doesn't get it," Judd said. "Because of this lady's recklessness, because of her disregard of all the instruction and rules, her second child died and that's why criminal charges are brought against her today."

Judd said Pitts received five documented formal warning about co-sleeping with her baby after she learned in March that she was pregnant again. One warning came from a doctor a few days after the child was born and seen for a checkup.

On Oct. 6, investigators said Pitts removed Javier from his bassinet after he woke up in the middle of the night. She propped the baby up on a pillow in her bed, the sheriff said, and he sat in the crook of her arm as he drank from his bottle. She fell asleep. Then, 2½ hours later, deputies said Pitts awoke and found that her son was unresponsive.

It was 7 years earlier, the Sheriff's Office said, that Pitts also fell asleep while breast-feeding her infant daughter. Angelina's death was ruled an accident.

Judd said Pitts got a "pass" in the first incident because detectives knew she was a new mother dealing with exhaustion. They viewed it then as a tragic accident, he said.

"When you're warned five separate times and you've already had experienced the losing of child," Judd said, "you'd think you'd do everything to the ends of the earth to keep it from happening again."

The sheriff said Pitts was shocked that she was arrested for her second child's death.

Judd said there was no evidence that the mother intended to harm either child, and in both cases she denied that she intended to do so.

But Judd said he couldn't wait for a third incident before his agency took action.

"She was irresponsible and as a result, she's got two dead babies," he said. "It's time for her to go to prison. It's time for her to pay the price."

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.

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