Centre County parents accused of causing infant’s death are headed toward trial

A district judge sent a Julian man and Pleasant Gap woman toward trial Friday on charges that accused them of failing to properly care for their 2-month-old son who died of blunt force trauma in February.

After a preliminary hearing that lasted nearly five hours, District Judge Thomas Jordan moved Tyler Baney and Ciara Steffey toward trial on one felony count each of endangering the welfare of a child and involuntary manslaughter, along with one misdemeanor count of recklessly endangering another person.

A State College police detective, two FBI agents and a child abuse pediatrics expert all testified about the infant’s death, though Baney’s defense lawyer, Marc Decker, said the charges were “a smear campaign.”

Centre County Assistant District Attorney Megan McGoron argued Baney, 24, and Steffey, 20, knew their son was seriously hurt and did nothing about it.

“Neither one of them were fit to be parents to these kids due to their drug and alcohol consumption,” she said.

Their relationship, according to Detective Nicholas Raia’s testimony Friday and affidavit of probable cause filed earlier this month, was “toxic” and rife with with alcohol and marijuana use.

The infant was dropped on his head twice in the days before his death while Baney and Steffey were intoxicated, Raia wrote.

Steffey said she was holding her son on the couch, jumped up during an argument with Baney, forgot she was holding him and dropped him “head first,” FBI agent Andrea Manning testified.

Baney said he was trying to put their other child to sleep when he heard a “thud” and saw their son on the floor, Raia wrote in his affidavit. Baney believed the fall caused the infant’s death and was “extremely sorry” for what happened, FBI agent Thomas Scanzano testified.

The parents discussed taking him to the hospital, but did not because there were no outward signs or symptoms, Steffey’s defense lawyer, Steve Trialonas, said.

Forensic pathologist Harry Kamerow initially ruled the child’s manner of death accidental, but later changed it to undetermined. Kamerow’s report, along with other medical records, were sent to Geisinger child abuse pediatrician Pat Bruno.

The child had at least three bruises and several rib fractures, which are a “red herring” for child abuse, Bruno testified.

“Just one bruise on a kid for me is like a full-court press,” Bruno testified. “... They can’t do anything. They don’t do anything. How does a 2-month-old get a bruise? Something happened to them.”

Baney and Steffey remain free in lieu of $50,000 unsecured bail.

Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.