Family fights to keep kids

The Grand Haven parents whose toddler drowned a year ago this week are now battling to keep the rest of their family intact.
Becky Vargo
Jun 26, 2014


A jury trial for Steve Wagasky and his longtime partner, Sara Huizenga, began Wednesday afternoon in Ottawa County Family Court.

Hospital officials alerted the Michigan Department of Human Services to possible concerns when the couple’s 10-month-old daughter, Eliza, was hurt early this year.

Huizenga told officials she bundled up the child on Jan. 22 to go after her dog, but slipped and fell on icy steps. The infant suffered a broken leg and was later determined to have a skull fracture when she was examined at DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids.

Questions on when the skull fracture actually occurred led DHS workers to file a petition to remove the infant and her two older half-siblings from the home.

Following a preliminary hearing, court officials ordered the infant and two older girls — ages 12 and 8 — removed from the home. The court later allowed them to return when Wagasky was at home.

The children have only been allowed supervised visitations with their mother.

During the preliminary hearing, Dr. Nancy Simms — a child abuse/neglect expert from DeVos Children’s Hospital — testified that the skull fracture could not have occurred from the fall, based on Huizenga’s description of what happened.

Defense attorney Michelle McClean said that two of the witnesses planned to appear in court on Thursday would refute Simm’s testimony. Bone expert Dr. Yousif Hamati will testify that the skull fracture likely happened at the time of the fall, McClean said.

Their star witness, bio-mechanical expert Blake Ashby, will “testify with reasonable scientific certainty that the skull fracture happened at the time of the fall,” McClean said. Ashby is also going to testify that the scenario imagined by Simms is the least likely of anything that might have happened, the defense attorney said.

McClean noted that it was inappropriate to schedule the trial on the anniversary of the child’s drowning. The family was investigated and cleared of any wrongdoing at the time, McClean said.

“I feel the state went too far this time,” she added.

Prosecuting attorney Jay Tubergen set out to establish a pattern of improper supervision on Huizenga’s part when he called his witnesses to the stand Wednesday afternoon.

Physicians assistant Tracy McCullough testified to treating toddler Ari Wagasky for possible ingestion of some of his mother’s medication less than a month before the toddler drowned. Steve Wagasky took his son to the hospital because the boy was discovered with the open bottle of medication and some wet tablets. McCullough said the boy tested negative for the medication three hours later.

Detective Brian Tithof of the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety and DHS worker Shelly Park testified about being called to interview family members concerning Eliza’s injury in January. During the interviews, they said Huizenga kept referring to her son’s drowning, which occurred on June 24, 2013.

No criminal charges resulted from the drowning. Police ruled the boy’s death as accidental and the family was cleared after a DHS investigation.

The petition to remove the children from the home was “due to the unexplained skull fracture on Eliza and the improper supervision pattern,” Park said.

Emergency room physician Nancy Goran, who treated Eliza when her father brought her to North Ottawa Community Hospital in January, said she filed a referral to Child Protective Services because the infant could not generate the force on her own to break her leg. Goran testified that she found no evidence of bruising or abrasions on the child’s head.

Testimony was expected to continue in the trial this morning with the final prosecution witness, Dr. Simms, and up to seven defense witnesses, including Hamati and Ashby. McClean said she expects a verdict will be reached Friday.



and yet another fine example of our fair judicial system, all the while the chance nash family gets off the hook by raising a stink and sueing. Maybe if these people file a lawsuit against the side walk or the city for not maintaining the sidewalk they would be off the hook. Really makes you want to raise kids!!! keep up the good work!


Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Off-topic comments.

Lynn Cummings

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks.


Lynn, I give the Trib 5 min. before they removed your comment.


I really wish the Tribune wouldn't print stories like this until they have heard both sides to the story & have all the facts straight. The way this & the last article was written was very one-sided (most likely by people with a vendetta or motive) & make it sound like the mom is guilty before she was even tried. The Tribune stating that Eliza suffered a "broken leg" when it was proven that Eliza did NOT have a "broken leg". It ended up being a fracture that only needed a splint and was healed in a couple weeks. Facts please people!!
This family was cleared of any wrongdoing in the accidental drowning of their son, Ari, and has nothing to do with what they are facing now. Please stop opening up old wounds, mentioning that irrelevance, showing pictures of him and implying that it does.
In the last 3 days, the Tribune has printed a story a day about child abusers AFTER they had been arrested and found guilty yet we heard nothing of their stories unfolding prior to that. Why?? Why is the Tribune sensationalizing this "story" as its unfolding but not others?? Maybe the Tribune should do more investigating into seeing who has it out for this family and why?
When this is all over with and the parents are able to have their children back home where they should have been all along, I hope & pray the Tribune does a recant stating the truth & instead sensationalize on CPS taking away children prematurely & the harm it does.

Lynn Cummings

You took my other comment down because of what you call "personal attacks". Isn't that exactly what you are doing in the press before you have all of the facts?

Barry Soetoro

I feel your pain, LC.

KariSamuelson are my hero...Lynn Every time I say that I get blocked... So sick of this attack on this family I am PROUD to call close friends.

Barry Soetoro

If Lani ever schedules the Trib Commenters Beer Summit you're both invited. We can bash BV without fear of moderation.


Overmoderated Barry


So sad for the Tribune to drag this family through the mud AGAIN! This story doesn't inform me but rather causes mistrust. Bad enough that CPS loves the headlines and have their own questionable agenda but the GH Tribune should be respectfull of the community as a whole remembering that this family has to live in this community just as everyone else and deserves the dignity, respect and support to make an attempt at keeping the family intact.

No one wins if the kids are taken away and should only be considered after every genuine attempt to reconcile is made. They don't need media sensationalism to exasperate the progress. These are real people in a real family, not an object for everyone's entertainment.

Tribune staff please realize that this is my opinion from a citizen's point of view and not intended to be directed at any one person. I've seen several moderations in this thread and wonder if any were merely critical of the Tribune's reporting tactics.


If I didn't know this family and was reading this article my first thoughts would be "Wow this family sought medical help ... real abusers don't do that!" So this paper has pointed out actions that would be taken by any family that does not abuse their children. You got that one right! I know this family and they live for their children. Sara is an intelligent, warm, caring person who not only is an amazing mother but gives back to not just a school, or her community but to the whole state and nation with her work with the families of the missing and her role as a NamUs Victim Advocate for your state. You don't do what she does so well and with such compassion and be an abuser, just the opposite you tend to become an even better parent and person. Steve is a good, good man (even though he and I don't agree on sports, LOL) who has pulled together a blended family and has been a solid and warm role model for all the children.

I pray this is over for this family today.


This family has a lot of surrounding family that reaps the affects of this article as well. The Tribune once again has caused more pain to multiple people. No article should be published when children's feelings and livelihood are at stake. This family has several siblings, cousins, Aunts, extra.


Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Libel and defamation.


why was the comment removed? it did not violate any of the rules. It appears the tribune runs their buisness like Obama runs America.


It is appalling to me how the death of sweet Ari Wagasky has been exploited during this process. This family was cleared of any wrong doing in the death of their son. Why is he being mentioned? Why are his photos being shown? Why on earth would you make this situation any harder on the family than it already is? I simply do not understand. I hope and pray that your staff never experiences any kind of tragedy... only to have it later exploited in such a public manner. Shame on you.

Lynn Cummings

I believe that a full page apology is in order for all of the continued hurt that your journalism is responsible for. In this country one is SUPPOSED to be innocent until proven guilty. The truth came out in court. The children are where they should have been all along. To exploit the accidental drowning of their angel is unforgivable. I'll NEVER understand why you did what you did or how you can sleep with yourself at night.


I agree 100% with you LC however; knowing that this would no longer be "gossip", I highly doubt that this reporter will print this beautiful and honest to God truth of an outcome. The TRUTH shall set you free, and in the case of the Wagasky's, we know that is a FACT. God is good ALWAYS, and even though there were those working with the devil himself to wrongfully accuse this beautiful and wonderful family, God, Jesus, and little orange shoe heaven boy Ari, made the truth come out I the end. Ari Orange on, Wagasky family...your true family is always behind you!! God Bless you! xoxoxo


Although the harm has been done, a statement of truth needs to come out in the Tribune concerning the case. The child was released to her parents today. By not sharing the truth the tribune is admitting to deceit.


The Tribune owes the Wagasky family a front page apology for trying to influence the community with the one sided unfair article. This never should have been in the paper until after the court hearing and only then if the parents had been found guilty of wrong doing and the minor children should have NEVER been mentioned at all. I find it sad that gossip is becoming front page news in this town and real reporting has gone by the wayside.


I'm glad this family was reunited and that the truth finally prevailed. The public damage, however has already been done and I am even less trusting now of CPS, NOCH, and the media.

This whole fiasco has been appalling to read about and every Tri-Cities resident, especially those with kids, should be demanding an investigation into the practices and abuse of authority and influence used to destroy the faith this family and the community as a whole had in our system that should have been designed to strengthen the family, not destroy it.


No follow up story? I bet if the Wagasky's had lost, the entire front page of this rag would have covered it. Typical gossip and sensationalism.


Hmmmmm, more than 24 hours later and no story about the outcome of the trial for the Wagasky family? It should have been a joyful occasion to immediately report this news - children being returned to their capable parents? THAT is GREAT news, people. To have watched this family go through the unimaginable tragedy of losing their 18 month old son and then imagining the horror of being accused of child abuse and ripping the girls from their mama's arms for over five months? And you don't find that newsworthy? Shame on you.


When will you be publishing a follow up allowing the public to know the truth?


Not only a follow up story should be written but front page news. Many new stories and updates since Friday but nothing about this victory for the family.


I am glad to see so much support for a family that has been has not only faced unthinkable tragedy, but has had their reputation damaged by the GH tribune. It really is disgusting.


Tribune going to step up and do what is right? or is the fish wrapper mentality going to continue? Can't remove all the comments!

Tri-cities realist

Don't challenge their authority or you will be silenced!


More comments will keep the story in the Top Comments as it should be. This family needs support right now and I wish them well. Sadly, their existence within the community, due to the frivolous publicity, will likely be with suspicion. I hope to see the media and community do the right thing and support this family's healing. Perhaps enough who agree should keep comments of support coming.


Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks.


Sounds like this "Dr." Simms isn't much of a child abuse/neglect "EXPERT", either.



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