Alayah-Rose Saverese / Submitted Photo
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. - A man left to care for a severely disabled Yonkers girl who died in 2012 after years of reported neglect surrendered Thursday to face charges of criminally negligent homicide and endangering the welfare of a child.
Oscar Thomas, 28, of the Bronx was arraigned Thursday in Westchester County Court, where the indictment was unsealed, and is being held without bond. His arrest comes a week after the girl's mother - then his fiancee and now his wife - was arrested in the case.
Thomas and 31-year-old Nicole Diggs of Yonkers, a Cornell University graduate and Bronx special-education teacher, are accused of failing to feed 8-year-old Alayah-Rose Savarese, bathe her and attend to her medical needs, despite having access to a $2.1 million trust to take care of her.
Diggs and the girl's biological father, 33-year-old Anthony Savarese of Yonkers, are set to inherit the money that was awarded as the result of a medical malpractice lawsuit against Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca, New York, where Alayah was born.
Alayah, who had cerebral palsy and couldn't speak, walk or eat, was found dead the afternoon of June 25, 2012, in her mother's apartment in Yonkers with a ruptured stomach, a state child fatality report says. She depended on others for round-the-clock care, but was aware of everything going on around her.
Darryl Gibbs, a child abuse prevention advocate, who has been fighting for justice for Alayah, praised the two arrests.
"I hope that the arrest and prosecution of Alayah's horrible caregivers sends a loud and clear message to caregivers across Westchester to always put the care of their children as a priority," Gibbs said. "The death of Alayah should as well make major changes in (the Department of Social Services) because Alayah should have been taken out of that house of horrors for her own well-being."
Thomas told investigators he went to a probation appointment that morning with a friend and left her with another friend who didn't know how to feed her through her stomach tube and wouldn't recognize whether she was having medical issues, the fatality report says. The friend also was watching the couple's 16-month-old twin sons.
Alayah was dead an estimated four to six hours before EMS workers arrived at the apartment, despite the friend's claim that he checked on her twice that morning. A blunt - a cigar rolled with marijuana - was found in the apartment; Thomas and two friends who were there tested positive for marijuana later that day, the report says. Police responded to the apartment about 1:50 p.m. after Thomas called 911.
According to court documents filed in the case, Thomas claimed Alayah "was o.k. when he checked on her at approximately 12:30 pm" but a short time later she was "unconscious and not breathing." Thomas is on probation for misdemeanor DWI and has a misdemeanor attempted assault conviction. It's unclear why he waited a week to surrender.
The Journal News highlighted the circumstances surrounding Alayah's death in a report in November, detailing how the girl already had been on the radar of state child welfare authorities when she died. Six earlier complaints had been made with the state regarding her care, including that she was filthy, underfed, frequently absent from school and missed physical therapy appointments. Only one complaint was substantiated, but that finding did not come until after she died.
That complaint was made a week before Alayah's death, when Westchester County Department of Social Services workers responded to the apartment on reports that she had missed half the school year and had unexplained bruises.
At that time, a caseworker suggested Diggs hire a health aide or explore other avenues of support, but Diggs said, "she did not want the government to try to recoup any money from the settlement," the state fatality report says. Officials at the girl's special-needs school got permission from Thomas to wash Alayah's hair and "the water was black" from dirt.
Thomas' court-appointed lawyer, Michael Rubin, did not make an argument for bail, saying he needed time to speak to Thomas.
Diggs, who works at P.S. 152 Evergreen, an elementary school, has been reassigned and barred from having access to students. She has been released on $25,000 bond and is due back in court Wednesday.
Read the original story: Mom's husband charged in disabled girl's death