Grieving family investigated

The mother of a boy who drowned last summer is not allowed to be alone with her children pending an investigation into injuries suffered by the Grand Haven woman’s youngest child last month.
Becky Vargo
Feb 28, 2014

The 10-month-old girl suffered a broken leg when her mother, Sara Huizenga, allegedly slipped and fell on the ice outside their house on Jan. 22.

Huizenga wrote on Facebook that she was going next door to retrieve their runaway dog and didn’t want to leave the child in the house.

Red flags were raised when it was discovered that the child also suffered a fractured skull on the lower, back part of her head — an injury a doctor testified isn’t consistent with the information about the fall.

Grand Haven Public Safety Director Jeff Hawke said officers are also investigating this case for possible criminal charges.

Huizenga is only allowed to be with her children under Michigan Department of Human Services-authorized supervision, which now includes her partner and father of the youngest child, Steven Wagasky.

Tragedy strikes family

The couple’s son, Ari, drowned June 24, 2013, near a family cottage on Lake Mitchell near Cadillac.

The 2-year-old boy walked away from his older sisters, ages 11 and 7 at the time, when Huizenga went inside the cottage to tend to the baby, said Detective Lt. Marty Penney of the Wexford County Sheriff’s Department.

The boy was found 15 minutes later, facedown in the water about 60 feet from shore. Efforts to resuscitate him were not successful, Penney said.

Wexford County prosecutors declined to file charges.

The drowning was determined to be accidental, Penney said. An autopsy was performed and drowning was determined to be the cause of death, he said.

Allegations made

While DHS representatives have petitioned Ottawa County courts regarding their concerns of possible neglect or abuse, Huizenga and Wagasky’s lawyer, Michelle McClean, claims her clients will be exonerated when all the information is revealed.

Witnesses for the family still have not taken the stand in what is going to a third day of the preliminary hearing on March 7, McClean said.

Both North Ottawa Community Hospital and Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital alerted DHS with their concerns after Wagasky brought his 10-month-old daughter to the emergency room on Jan. 22. Huizenga stayed home with her two other daughters, who are children from a previous marriage.

The Department of Human Services submitted a petition to remove the three children from the home because of possible neglect or abuse concerns.

Ottawa County Court Administrator Kevin Bowling said submitting the petition is the first step in the process. Next there is a preliminary hearing to determine whether or not there is probable cause to believe any allegations are true.

The preliminary hearing began Feb. 7, but was adjourned to allow McClean to arrange for witnesses for the family.

Officials reconvened the hearing Feb. 20, when Dr. Nancy Simms testified on behalf of Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and Ottawa/Allegan Child Advocacy.

Simms explained the child received a fracture on the top of her femur — similar to a Greenstick fracture. This likely occurred when there was a bend to the bone, she said.

Simms testified that Huizenga described slipping down a couple of steps while holding her infant on her hip.

“The injury did make sense with the description of what happened,” Simms said.

While examining the child, medical staff did a CT scan and confirmed the skull fracture. Simms said that type of fracture on the lower back part of the child’s head is unusual, and would have occurred from a significant event.

“Something had to strike her hard or she had to strike it,” Simms said. “It was something crushing that hit.”

When questioned, Simms said there was no external evidence of a head injury and she could not determine whether or not the injury had occurred in the fall or at an earlier time.

“My concern,” she said, “is there are two different planes of injury and no good physical explanation.”

Simms said it is possible the child could have fractured her skull in the fall, but not in the way the fall was described and demonstrated by her mother.

“This mom was tearful and just distraught,” Simms said.

The doctor said Huizenga emphasized that she was guarding her daughter on the fall and didn’t drop her.

“Mom very emotionally wanted us to know she was protecting Eliza,” Simms said. “I think she would have done her best to protect her daughter.”

In response to further questioning from attorney R.J. Winter, who is representing the children, Simms said, “It is unlikely the skull fracture occurred at that time.”

The rest of the hearing was adjourned because of time.

To read more of this story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

 

 

Comments

Boater

Allegations can be made, however they may not be true. Our son broke the top of his femur playing ring around the rosie when he was 2yrs old. I understand why DHS has to get involved in some cases, however just because DHS was called does NOT mean that these folks are guilty of abuse. I'm still wondering why this needs to be in the news, it's personal for this family and I'm sure that they are devastated by the death of their child in 2013.

gordbzz231

I was thinking the same thing, This family is already going thru hell, do not need being reported in the new,s where our community can pick them apart, pretty sad,

CASA2

It is good that this is being reported upon, in the press. Something is gut-wrong about this situation and protecting the children is first & foremost. The fact is, that no one truly knows how this mother (or father) deals with children, when no one else is there. How does a busy mom have time for anything on line? Why the interest in missing children? Profiling criminals and behaviors of the guilty, is valid. Now the family is accepting money from strangers. Something is very wrong about all this & it needs investigating to protect the innocent / kids.

flowers

I agree with Boater. These are allegations hello!!! This family is suffering enough as it is so why does this need to be made public? They haven't been convicted of anything yet. I can't even imagine the number of cases that are investigated and we aren't seeing those in the paper. How insensitive of the GH Tribune. Please leave this family alone. They already lost one precious child. Can't imagine.

sobe

Agreed. Whether or not fault is found, this article causes pain and damage to the family that is unnecessary and irreparable. The Tribune often publishes names and photos of adults and teenagers alike who have not been proven guilty yet. I find this irresponsible.

watchingyou

Reporting like this is wrong. I don't care what the results are of the investigation, you have dragged this family through the mud and the reputation is tainted permanently. I have dealt with DHS on both of my children because it is policy of the hospital to report injuries. My kids were both very active outdoors on bikes, skateboards, and snowboards and both have broken themselves numerous times. If the Trib would have reported on my cases like this without having all of the information, I would have let my lawyer have a hay day. C'mon Trib, what is happening? Cant find any real news?

Karingh

AMEN!

concernedmom

I'm glad this family is being investigated. I am a Facebook acquaintance of the mother and remember well her attitude towards her toddler prior to his death. When she first announced her pregnancy she was unhappy about it and after the child was born I was dismayed by her attitude towards the child. She often referred to his "whining" and "screaming". The photos she posted of him showed animosity towards the child, IMO (pics of him with food on his face, crying, etc.) When I heard that he had died, I was shocked but I also felt something like dread. The fact that mom then began some kind of online campaign, appealing to strangers and begging for FB "likes" and support is very strange. I hope, for the sake of this family that the truth is not as awful as I fear it may be.

Feedomofspeech

you must be JAF....LOL

AHS

Everyone reading this and know the Wagasky's knows who you are.
So before you go around like the evil soul less person you are, making lies about a wonderful family.
Get your own life in order, I know for a fact that you just got engaged, even though you're still married.
In case you haven't noticed you and your fiance are the only ones on this forum spewing hate at the Wagasky's.

Magic Mike

It seems like people are focusing on the wrong thing here. We should all read the reporting and see what the facts say. Just my two cents.

AsHavenTurns

I don't know why it's a big deal that the Tribune is sharing the story. Mrs. Wagasky and her friends (at least one, who is probably making it worse for the Wagaskys with her "help") have been sharing it all over Facebook since the beginning. It's not like the Wagaskys are trying to deal with this in private and in peace. The newspapers are dealing with public record and facts. That's their job.

I wouldn't doubt if Sara or her friend initially contacted the news. I'd bet on that even. You can't complain about something you asked for.

I do hope all of the kids have been getting real professional counseling since the tragic death of their brother this summer.

bob pratt

With all due respect, while I have never met either of the parents I have dealt with many family members who have suffered a fatal drowning of a loved one. Grief is a very personal thing; we all react differently. You may choose to deal with loss " in private and in peace" but do not judge others for choosing a different path.
Yes the Tribune is dealing with public records and 'facts' however there is a bias in the reporting. It maybe a fact that "Wexford County prosecutors declined to file charges." but the statement implies there was reason to consider charges and leaves the reader with a false impression. I'm guessing that the statement "AsHavenTurns seemed completely sane from their post" is a fact, but it also leaves the impression that it might not be true. This is unfair to you and the article is unfair to Ms. Huizenga.
I share your concern for the children and all the siblings affected by the drowning pandemic.
Bob Pratt
Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project

ROBERT LYNN DAY

I THINK THAT THE TRIBUNE REPORTING PEOPLE ARE DOING THIS TO HURT THIS CARING AND LOVING FAMILY AND THEIR CHILDREN AND IS DOING IT BY 1 PRINTING A STORY THAT SEEMS TO ATTACK THEM IT IS ATTACKING THEM BECAUSE ALL THE FACTS ARE NOT IN 2 THEY ARE STILL GRIEVING THE LOSS OF THEIR LITTLE BOY ARI WHOM HAS WON MY HEART AND THE HEARTS OF MANY OTHERS INCLUDING STRANGERS WE AS LOVING PEOPLE FELL IN LOVE NOT ONLY WITH ARI BUT THE FAMILY AS WELL TO PRINT YOUR BLATANT STORY BEFORE THE FACTS AND TRUTH IS SHOWN IS IRRESPONSIBLE AND WAS NOT NEEDED YOU DID NOTHING BUT CONTINUE THEIR PAIN SO I SAY TO YOU WHOM REPORTED THIS STORY KEEP CALM AND ARI ORANGE ON I ALSO AGREE WITH ALL THE OTHERS THT LEFT COMMENTS

Creedance

I think someone missed their period.

bob pratt

It bad enough that a family that has suffered from a tragedy is accused of abuse, it’s far worse that a news agency chooses to try the case in the public arena. Drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death in children under 14. It is far more common than most people believe. Contrary to Hollywood’s portrayal, drowning is swift and silent. The belief that drowning only happens to neglectful parents is both cruel and unfounded. The statement that “Wexford County prosecutors declined to file charges” is inflammatory.
If it is determined that there is no abuse nor neglect I hope the Tribune will post an article exonerating the family and apologizing for such a degrading article.

Harlie10

To Miss concerned mom! As a Facebook user I see all the time pictures of parents posting about their kids pictures with food on their faces screaming and complaining about them, I too have done the same but on July 4 th 2012 I lost my 11 year old daughter after she went out on a family members boat and it capsized and she was caught in the cabin. Now do I complain about my other child no I don't because what seemed so major before doesn't seem as important now, and I,m sure you yourself have complained about your kids as well but until you are faced with tragedy don't you dare past judgment, I to have been called a neglectful parent and guess what I wasn't even there she went out with family like she did every year so please stop, I choose to grieve out loud about my child because she is my child and I can I'm not looking for pity . But our kids the ones that went to heaven mean something too us . Sara and Steve choose to do this out loud.Do I think for a min that anyone would harm this little girl no I don't . And to assume anything more then what happened to Ari was nothing more the a accident is disgusting . I have been where she is now with the news making something out of hear say! And what we post on our FB pages is everyday life just because some people don't post the truth on theirs doesn't mean we need to justify what we do. The papers should never of posted this story they should of never painted this family in any other way then a grieving family that loves their kids. Protecting your child as you both are slipping on the ice is not neglect and she happened to get hurt on the way down holy crap! But truth is these kids are loved and unless you have walked in their shoes don't you dare pass judgment on anything they do. And the comments here from people so ready to judge a family not really knowing anything just proves how narrow minded of a society we live in. The two woman that have posted sure seem like they have a ax to grind . I guess it's easier to judge then be judged.

Lovemydogs

I think it is horrible to splash this all over the paper when it is still ongoing. Shame on county officials for taking the words of jealousy and anger and putting this already shattered family thru another battle. Losing a child is a devastation that no one can understand. I can not even begin to imagine the horror at the thought of losing the ones that remain.

BTL2A

Look at George Zimmerman, Casey Anthony, they receieved national attention before their day in court.

What I would find irresponsible is if there is no followup. Once you post a story like this is is their duty to publish the end result, whatever that turns out to be.

dtaylor0415

My hubby & I live across the street from the Wagasky's, and have always witnessed happy kids playing outside...with a mother that was always snapping pics of the kids. We were saddened for the loss of their son, and are now saddened again that this kind of article can be published by our local paper. I just don't understand why? How unfair to Steve, Sara & their children to print this.

factorfiction

Be HONEST....is that ALL you've seen? I would hate for all of their neighbors to be subpoenaed in this investigation. The loss of there son IS a tragedy, no doubt! But if you have witnessed ANYTHING that speaks to the validity of the parents being responsible...you should speak the truth so a tragedy like this does not repeat itself.

dtaylor0415

What are your intentions by posting this type comment? It seems to me you are trying to malign the parents...don't you think this article has done enough of that! I'm pretty sure they don't want ANY of their children hurt or hurting. Please stop with insinuations, and show their family support.

factorfiction

The TRUTH needs to come out! Have you or have you not seen ANYTHING in the past that speaks to the validity of the parents being responsible? (Ie children left unsupervised, left in the care of minors, etc) I am concerned for the future safety of the children. As is everyone involved in the investigation. I don't agree with what the Tribune did, but there is a reason why there is an investigation right?

AHS

oh Jennifer..or Scott...JUST STOP ALREADY!!!!!

Colette

It is disgusting that anyone could believe this family does anything but love their children. Ari's accident was just that, an accident. The only thing this family has ever wanted was to grieve their child. To raise the other children to know and love their brother even though he is not around. I know quite a few mothers that have lost one of their children in different ways and a few of them have chosen to grieve openly. In honesty, I believe that allows them to reach out for the help they need. They need support, not to be brought down. These parents are no different than any other parents, the children are no different than any other children. They have good days and bad days, they have days when their children won't stop crying, or whining, for no reason what so ever. What some of you are saying is that she shouldn't be allowed to get annoyed, or irritated with that situation. EVERY single parent has had that happen to them, it's part of parenting. That doesn't mean she neglects or abuses her children. These are horrible allegations and this tribune should not have posted anything like this, especially with names and pictures. Keep Calm and Ari Orange On!

Bad-attitude

Until there are facts not allegations this should not be in the paper. DHS has to be involved whenever a child is injured in a way that does not stack up to the "normal" injury pattern seen but it does not automatically mean the parent are guilty of abuse or neglect. If they are found guilty then it is fair game for the paper to print a story but until then they should follow the presumed innocent until proven guilty. From what the news has shared here it would be hard not to assume that this is an abuse case and make one wonder about neglect in the case of the first child's death. I think it is in poor taste and premature to print this story now.

Disheartened

I am reading this and just in shock, what kind of town do you people have?? Salem? OMG PLEASE tell me when the privacy of children was allowed to be violated by irresponsible reporters? So what if Ms.Huizenga chooses to share about her family on social media, that does NOT in any way give implied consent to violate the children's right to privacy. Furthermore, to the person who posted the scathing comment about how Ms. Huizenga being unhappy when she found she was pregnant, prove it, you have no way of knowing how a person really feels inside just by reading posts on social media, I'd sue your pants off if I were that family, but from my understanding they are much to kind to do such things and are forgiving, lucky you. Hiding behind a screen name and computer to add more injury to that family shows your character and let me tell you, you bitter and nasty monster, you don't look good. Show your true self why don't ya? Afraid she will boot your sorry behind off her pages so you can't twist her posts to suit an agenda anymore? Jealousy is an ugly thing and makes one ugly to the bone, you are just ugly. I would never move to nor visit that town, a bunch of judgmental, self righteous, gossiping snobs is what you are, including this rag they call a newspaper. Unbelievable!!

Back to the Wall

That's what I said. Then the comment was deleted. Just a sorry bunch of ambulance chasers.

AHS

A LOT of comments have been deleted.....the tribune doesn't want negative opinions here...I imagine by morning, there will none left.......someone is watching this close with their finger on the delete button

mlouiswolf

I think it is sickening that this is in the newspaper. There is a whole world of news out there. Go find it, and stop perpetuating Witch Hunts.
Use some critical thinking. If there is the slightest chance that the kids could be being abused, is the doctor going to use his own good judgement to decide if this is abuse or is he going to cover-his-butt? Yer darn right; he is going to cover his butt. ...and so will the social workers and right down the line. There is no consequence for raising a spectre of wrong doing, but there sure as H*** is one if you keep your mouth shut.
Here's a story idea for the Trib; How often are allegations like this later deemed to Unwarranted, or at least the investigated parties deemed to be innocent?

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