Grandmother in overheated baby case may withdraw plea, seek trial
SUNBURY - The grandmother of a 1-year-old Sunbury girl, who died from hyperthermia after being left in a room for 19 hours with a space heater in 2010, reportedly plans to withdraw her guilty plea to involuntary manslaughter and possibly seek a trial.
Bertha M. Dreese, 65, of Selinsgrove, was scheduled to be sentenced Monday morning by Northumberland County Judge William H. Wiest, but her attorney, James Best of Sunbury, requested a pre-trial conference in the case to be held March 1.
When asked why his client changed her mind about being sentenced Monday, Best reserved comment.
Northumberland County First Assistant District Attorney Ann Targonski, who is prosecuting the case and did not oppose the pre-trial conference request, said the commonwealth believes Dreese intends to withdraw her plea in hopes of being acquitted at trial.
Dreese's daughter, Heidi S. Yocum, 30, of Lewisburg, the mother of the girl who died from hyperthermia, was sentenced Jan. 14 by Judge Charles H. Saylor to 12 to 60 months in a state prison after previously pleading guilty to recklessly endangering a child for her role in the death. She was expecting to be placed on probation.
Yocum's plea was accepted by Saylor, but not the sentencing conditions the defendant and her attorney, Edward "E.J." Rymsza of Williamsport had sought.
A plea agreement between Northumberland County Adult Probation and Yocum called for her to receive probation for up to five years. But Saylor disagreed and sentenced Yocum to 12 to 60 months in a state prison despite being told by Rymsza that his client had changed her life around by remaining drug-and-alcohol free and attending Pennsylvania College of Technology, where she achieved a 4.0 grade-point average this past semester.
Rymsza has requested modification of the sentence or approval to withdraw the guilty plea because he said Saylor did not allow prosecutors to comment about Yocum's cooperation in the investigation and the probation department's recommendation for probation.
Dreese, Yocum and the infant's father, 29-year-old Lopaka Loner, were charged in the death. On Nov. 19, Loner was sentenced by President Judge Robert B. Sacavage to 11 1/2 to 23 months in Northumberland County Prison after pleading guilty to misdemeanors of endangering the welfare of children and recklessly endangering another person.
Loner received the jail sentence on the endangering offense, and was given two months consecutive probation on the recklessly endangering charge.
Loner also was ordered to pay $600 in fines and various costs, and given credit for 219 days previously served in Northumberland County Prison.
The trio were charged by Sunbury Officer Jamie Quinn about a year after the death of Anela Naloni Loner, who was found dead Oct. 16, 2010, from hyperthermia after being left in a room for 19 hours with a space heater at 43 S. Seventh St., Sunbury, where Yocum and Loner resided at the time.
Police said Dreese had been babysitting the child and Yocum's two other children on Oct. 16. Police said Dreese arrived at the home at 1 p.m., but didn't check on the infant until the following morning.
Additionally, neither Yocum nor Loner checked on the child throughout the day, police said.
Authorities said the infant was not provided any food or water in the room that likely ranged in temperatures between 70 and 90 degrees.