Mother guilty in child’s death

Published 10:43pm Thursday, February 13, 2014

A jury on Thursday found a Suffolk mother culpable in the 2011 death of her 2-year-old daughter.

Lakesha Lanika Artis, 33, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and child abuse and neglect after a trial that began Monday. Her daughter, Destiny Riddick, died on July 17, 2011, after ingesting suboxone, a medication used to combat opiate dependence, that she found the day before in a Mentos bottle in her stepfather’s mother’s bedroom.

The girl was taken to Sentara Obici Hospital after she was found to have ingested the pills at the house on Truman Road.

After about three hours of observation, the hospital sent the girl home with her mother with discharge instructions that said to return her to the hospital if she started displaying any of a number of symptoms.

Back at home, the girl felt hot to the touch, was restless, felt dizzy and was having hallucinations, witnesses said.

Artis, however, did not take her daughter back to the hospital. The girl fell asleep at 4 a.m. and was found dead several hours later.

The hospital had an antidote available that expert witnesses said could “possibly” have saved the girl’s life had she been returned to the hospital in time. It is not supposed to be given before symptoms develop, however, which is why it was not given when she was at the hospital. Neither Sentara Obici nor any other hospital in the area had the ability to do an on-site test for suboxone poisoning at the time, witnesses said.

Prosecutor Marie Walls said the mother’s behavior — including a trip to McDonald’s after bringing her daughter home from the hospital, even though there was food in the house — demonstrated a callous disregard for her daughter’s life. She also called attention to the medical examiner’s report that the girl had curved scars on her back, and the girl’s step-grandmother testified Artis had beaten the girl with a coat hanger.

Defense attorney Drew Page, however, said his client was not at fault. She had trusted the medical professionals who had cared for her daughter in the emergency room, he said.

He also placed blame on the hospital for discharging the girl even though she was displaying symptoms of suboxone poisoning — including lethargy, sleepiness and pupils that had only a minimal reaction to light — in the emergency room. The girl’s respiratory and oxygenation rates also dropped below normal levels while there, according to the medical records.

The hospital, he said, also gave the wrong discharge instructions — for a “nontoxic” ingestion rather than a toxic one — and said the medical record indicated that caregivers there had “reassured” the mother. He argued the mother could not have been expected to recognize symptoms that medical professionals themselves allegedly had failed to recognize.

The family has filed a civil suit against the hospital and the emergency room doctor.

The girl’s step-grandmother and her boyfriend, Steven Wade Bullock and Kimberly Denise Artis, already have pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter for leaving the drugs where Destiny could find them. They are serving prison sentences for that and other charges stemming from the incident.

The jury recommended a sentence of two years for the child abuse and neglect and six months and a $1,000 fine on involuntary manslaughter. Sentencing is set for April 28.

Lakesha Artis also was indicted on a charge of second-degree murder, but the court dismissed that charge.

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