Muncie mom charged in infant's fatal co-sleeping incident

Posted at 1:52 PM, Jul 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-11 18:32:35-04

MUNCIE, Ind. -- A Muncie mother repeatedly ignored warnings about co-sleeping with her infant daughter, leading to the child’s death, according to criminal charges filed Tuesday in Delaware County.

Muncie police officers were called to Tricia Cavanaugh’s home in the 2100 block of Glenwood Avenue shortly after 9 a.m. on June 9, 2016, after Cavanaugh reported her 4-month-old daughter wasn’t breathing.

Officers arrived to find Cavanaugh crying hysterically and trying to perform CPR on her infant daughter, Celina Miller.

Celina was immediately transported to IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital. She was pronounced dead an hour later.

According to a probable cause affidavit filed in the case, Cavanaugh appeared to police to be intoxicated, “with unsteady balance, slow and slurred speech and poor manual dexterity.”

An officer on scene recorded hearing Cavanaugh say, “I know what happened. I shouldn’t have taken my Norco” – the brand name of an opioid pain reliever containing hydrocodone.

While Cavanaugh was at the hospital, police obtained a warrant to perform a blood draw on her. The results showed Cavanaugh tested positive for hydrocodone and nordiazepam, a benzodiazepine used as a sedative and for the treatment of anxiety disorders. A separate saliva screen turned up additional positives for diazepam and oxycodone.

According to the affidavit, a search of Cavanaugh’s prescription history showed she had filled a 90-count hydrocodone prescription three days prior to Celina’s death and a 90-count prescription for gabapentin – a drug used to treat epilepsy and nerve pain – one day prior to Celina’s death.

A search of Cavanaugh’s home turned up a bottle of gabapentin with 72 pills remaining, along with several empty medication bottles, including two bottles of gabapentin, six bottles of hydrocodone and one bottle of diazepam.

Cavanaugh’s prescription history showed she had not received a prescription for diazepam since April 21, 2016, and had not received a prescription for oxycodone at all in the year prior to Celina’s death.

Celina’s health records showed she tested positive for opiates at birth and had to be placed in the NICU at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital for neonatal drug withdrawal.

Following her birth, Cavanaugh received information about the dangers of co-sleeping with Celina on multiple occasions. According to the affidavit, despite this information, nursing staff in the labor and delivery unit found Cavanaugh sleeping in bed with Celina at the hospital.

DCS records showed Cavanaugh had been warned previously about co-sleeping with her then-youngest child in January 2015. Cavanaugh also reportedly tested positive for illegal substances during a DCS interview at that time, and the then-2-month-old child was temporarily removed from her home.

An autopsy performed by a forensic pathologist was unable to determine Celina’s manner or cause of death, but did find that unsafe sleeping conditions had been a contributing factor.

According to the affidavit, Cavanaugh told police in July 2016 that she had been co-sleeping with Celina when she woke up and found the infant lying face down and unresponsive. Cavanaugh also reportedly told police she was prescribed three pills of gabapentin, three times a day, and that she had refilled her prescription the day before Celina’s death.

When police noted that would mean she should have 81 pills remaining, and not 72, Cavanaugh was reportedly unable to account for the missing medication.

Cavanaugh faces a charge of neglect of a dependent resulting in death, a level 1 felony. She was being held at the Delaware County Jail on a $50,000 bond. 

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