Charges won't be filed in death of White City child

Authorities won't pursue charges in a case involving a 6-month-old who died from a fall at her day-care provider's home in White City in December.

Jackson County District Attorney Mark Huddleston said his office could not prove a crime had occurred when Emma Lynn Brandt died after falling 17 inches onto a carpeted floor.

Linda Britton, who had provided day care for the child since she was a few months old, told police she left Emma on a chair for a brief time as she left the room to dispose of a dirty diaper. When Britton returned she saw that Emma had fallen off the couch.

Britton told investigators she panicked after seeing that Emma was gasping for air and appeared to be in trauma.

Britton said she attempted mouth-to-mouth breathing on the child and at one point briefly shook Emma in an attempt to revive her.

"(Britton) doesn't believe she shook the baby very hard," Huddleston said. "She has been a daycare provider for 30 years and said she knew that it doesn't take a lot of shaking to injure a child."

Emma was rushed to the hospital, where she underwent emergency surgery for apparent head trauma. A neurosurgeon attempted to deal with the internal bleeding and swelling of the child's brain but could not repair the damage. Emma died three days later.

Investigators and medical experts suspected Emma might have died from shaken baby syndrome, saying that a 17-inch fall was unlikely to cause the type of trauma Emma suffered.

However, the case took a turn after it was found Emma had suffered a previous brain injury.

Surgeons found evidence of a previous brain hemorrhage that most likely occurred two to three weeks before the fall at Britton's home.

Doctors reported that the previous injury could have made Emma's brain more susceptible to serious injury, making it possible that a 17-inch fall could prove fatal.

Deputy State Medical Examiner Dr. James Olson performed an autopsy on Dec. 14. He did not characterize Emma's death as a homicide. Instead, he labeled the manner of death as "undetermined."

Olson could not study the previous injury because the hematoma was not retained by Rogue Valley Medical Center. The investigation took several months to complete because Olson spent considerable time conferring with other medical examiners when making his report.

Heather Brandt, Emma's mother, says that the system failed her family in this case. She criticized the hospital for disposing of the previous hematoma before Olson could view it.

"I didn't feel like anyone was on my side in this," she said.

Brandt said she has not spoken with Britton since the incident. Britton could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Not knowing what caused Emma's first brain injury makes it impossible to pursue criminal charges in this case, Huddleston said.

"This case was problematic because of the pre-existing injury," Huddleston said. "We've charged a lot of shaken-baby cases over the years, but this one presents several problems regarding proof."

Huddleston said it was determined that Britton's actions that day were not negligent, as she left the child on the couch for only 30 seconds and shook the child after going into a panic when she saw Emma was not breathing.

"It's difficult to know exactly what happened here," he said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or by email at cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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