Autopsy found drugs in dead child’s system

Toxicology tests performed on the 13-month-old girl who died in a Kingsbury home earlier this year found narcotics in her system, and authorities are awaiting an analysis by a pathologist to say whether the drugs were responsible for the child’s death, The Post-Star has learned.

Family members of Kayleigh Cassell said Wednesday blood tests showed the child had ingested cocaine and an opiate before her death. Two law enforcement sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, corroborated their comments.

The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, Dr. Michael Sikirica, is reviewing the toxicology test results to determine whether the level of drugs was high enough to cause the child’s death. Despite injuries to the girl, the autopsy had not led to a determination of the cause of death, nor manner of death, as of Wednesday.

Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy said Wednesday his office was still awaiting a toxicology report in the case and said he was not aware of any test results.

Washington County District Attorney Tony Jordan would not comment on the toxicology tests, but said authorities were awaiting a report from Sikirica.

“His (Sikirica’s) analysis will contribute greatly to whether there will be any charges,” Jordan said. “Nothing has been ruled out.”

Kayleigh died Feb. 22 in the Route 4 home where she was living with her mother and mother’s boyfriend. The boyfriend’s mother owns the home and also lives there, and several other young children were there that day.

The boyfriend, Joshua J. Bennett, 34, has been the main focus of the police investigation, but he has not been charged in connection with the death and said he was not responsible.

Bennett and Kayleigh’s mother, Rachel Ball, 27, face felony drug charges in connection with heroin and cocaine found in the home. Ball is charged with possessing cocaine, Bennett heroin and cocaine.

Officials said empty small envelopes that appeared to have been packaging for drugs were found in the bedroom where Kayleigh, Ball and Bennett had been sleeping.

Ball was in Kingsbury Town Court on Wednesday, and the case against her was adjourned until May 13. She was allowed to remain free on bail.

She would not discuss the case as she entered court, but her aunt, June Terpening, with whom Ball is living and who refers to Ball as her “daughter,” said the family was told of the drug test results by unspecified members of law enforcement.

“We want to know, how did she get it?” Terpening asked. “Was it an accident, or was it given to her intentionally?”

She said Ball was sleeping in the hours before Kayleigh was found dead, and that Bennett had been with the girl during that period of time. Several other young children — Bennett’s from prior relationships — were also in the home.

“People look at my daughter like she’s a monster, but she didn’t do anything other than trust him,” Terpening said.

She said one of the other children in the house told police they witnessed Bennett giving Kayleigh a “bath” sometime in the hours before she was found dead.

Court records include a two-page signed statement from Ball in which she outlines the days before the girl died as well as the morning she found the unconscious toddler.

In the statement, Ball told police that Bennett got her addicted to cocaine and heroin.

She said Kayleigh had been “sick” in the days before she died, with a fever and vomiting four days before her death. Kayleigh had also complained that her left arm hurt, and Ball told police Bennett had grabbed her by that arm and took her from Ball as Ball held her days before her death.

Ball said she and Bennett had been arguing during the days before Kayleigh’s death. Bennett was frequently selling cocaine and heroin at the time, and the two of them were using a cocaine and heroin mixture, including using it late the night before or early the morning of Kayleigh’s death, she said.

They had argued the night before, with Ball alleging that Bennett grabbed her arms violently, and the two used a cocaine and heroin mix before Ball fell asleep, she said.

Ball told police she awoke to see Kayleigh covered by a blanket with a bottle next to her in a portable playpen, and thought the girl was sleeping. When she noticed the girl hadn’t moved later in the morning, she checked and found she was not breathing but had visible injuries, court records show.

“I saw that she looked swollen and had light green and purple bruises on her neck and face,” Ball told police, according to the statement.

“I begged him (Bennett) to help and he said ‘What do you want me to do?’ and said, ‘She was fine when I put her to bed last night,’” Ball told police.

Ball and Bennett were scheduled for appearances Wednesday in Kingsbury Town Court. Bennett’s presence generated tense moments among those who were with Ball. Terpening was shaking as Bennett and the Ball contingent stared at each other through a set of doors.

Ball’s court-appointed lawyer, Robert Gregor, said the family has not gotten any official word on toxicology tests from police.

Gregor has asked Kingsbury Justice Michael Keenan to appoint him to represent Ball in connection with the death investigation, but Keenan has not ruled on the request.

Bennett faces a four-count indictment that accuses him of illegally selling and possessing heroin on Feb. 21 and possessing cocaine and marijuana the following day. He has pleaded not guilty to three felony drug counts and a misdemeanor and is being held in Washington County Jail for lack of bail.

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Eric Write head editor and chief at The Pluto Daily