Published Date Written by Dan Miller
A Lower Swatara Twp, man was arrested and charged Wednesday for his alleged involvement in an incident police are calling “horrific” - allegedly throwing a six-month old baby into a playpen, causing serious injuries to the boy including a fractured skull, according to court documents filed by township police.
Stephen M. Lehman Jr., 26, of the 100 block of Lake Drive, has been charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, and endangering the welfare of a child. Lehman is in Dauphin County Prison on $50,000 bail.
The baby also suffered a cut on his face which had to be closed by stitches, and bruising was seen on the back of the baby's neck, according to court documents.
Lower Swatara Police Detective Robert H. Appleby said that the baby is "doing well" and should soon be released from the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Medical personnel with the center alerted police to the baby's injuries after the infant was brought in for treatment early Sunday morning, July 20.
Police said Lehman was on probation for DUI at the time of the alleged offense, meaning that even if Lehman makes bail he will not be released from jail due to violating conditions of his probation. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. August 1 before District Magisterial Judge Michael Smith.
Lower Swatara police said that the baby was being cared for by Lehman and the baby's older sister, Samantha Price, who is Lehman's girlfriend, when the alleged offense occurred at about 1 a.m. Sunday, July 20.
The baby's mother, identified by police as Leann Searer, was working at the time of the alleged offense and had left the baby in the care of Lehman and Price. Lehman was living with Price at the baby's residence in Nelson Manor Trailer Park. Neither Price nor the baby's mother have been charged.
Police said that Lehman in the first few hours of being questioned initially gave detectives several different versions for what happened.
At first, Lehman told police that he did not know how the baby had gotten hurt, and that he had found the baby crying and covered in blood.
After police confronted Lehman with the seriousness of the baby's injuries, police said Lehman told them he was holding the baby and trying to comfort him, when Lehman tripped and the baby fell onto a mattress and then bounced onto the carpeted floor.
However, Appleby and fellow Lower Swatara Detective Ryan Gartland noted the presence of a large amount of dried blood in the middle of the mattress in the baby's play pen. In addition, Lehman also had a large blood stain on his t-shirt, police said. Police also noted blood stains on the comforter of a bed within three feet of the playpen, and blood on the carpet.
Upon further questioning Lehman acknowledged to police that he had made up the story about tripping and dropping the baby. He told police he could not remember what happened, because he had blacked out from being drunk.
Ultimately, Lehman told police that he had not blacked out, but at some point in the night had been awoken by the baby crying. Lehman told police he was still drunk, became angry that he could not get the baby to stop crying, and threw the baby into the playpen. Police believe the baby's injuries were caused by the baby hitting part of a metal weight bench that was protruding into the playpen.
Lehman said he awoke Price after seeing that the baby was crying much harder and was covered in blood. Appleby said Lehman and Price did not call 911, but drove the baby to the hospital.
Appleby said that the blood evidence in the residence was key to getting Lehman to confess. Appleby said that he and Gartland both have experience in forensics as a result of working with the Dauphin County forensics unit.
Appleby said that Dauphin County Children and Youth are involved in the case. He could not say if the baby will be returned to his mother, but that officials "will not let that person (Lehman) anywhere near the baby."
"He is not getting out of jail, and even if he does, he will not be allowed near that baby or that home. There is no indication or report that the daughter or mother had anything to do with his injuries," Appleby said.
Appleby said a case like this involving serious injuries to a baby is "extremely rare" in Lower Swatara Township.
"It's something that is very hard to get your head around. It's horrific. It's very hard to deal with, regardless of your experience level. It's something you never get used to," Appleby said.