Inquiry Into Baby’s Death Reopened : Persistent Grandfather Wins New Investigation of ‘Accident’
After writing nearly 100 letters to police and prosecutors since 1983, the grandfather of a 15-month-old girl who died of head injuries suffered while in the care of a Simi Valley baby sitter has gotten the case reopened.
The Ventura County district attorney’s office confirmed last week that it is again investigating the death of Natalie Hsieh (pronounced shay ) in response to a recommendation by the state attorney general’s office that baby sitter Brenda Yang be charged with murder.
In 1983, Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury announced he would not prosecute Yang, now 33, because evidence indicated that Natalie’s death resulted from an “improbable but still quite possible” accidental fall from Yang’s kitchen table to a thickly carpeted floor.
Bradbury’s decision was at odds both with the Simi Valley police report and a probe by the Los Angeles County coroner’s office, which handled the case because the baby’s death occurred at Childrens Hospital in Los Angeles.
Both the police and the coroner’s office concluded that the massive head and body injuries that caused Natalie’s death could not have occurred in the manner described by Yang.
Both Recommend Prosecution
Both agencies ruled it a homicide and recommended prosecution.
At issue is whether the baby could have suffered three severe skull fractures in a three-foot fall, and whether such a fall could have caused additional injuries to the baby’s lower back and rib cage.
Since Bradbury’s decision not to prosecute, Chang Kuo-sin, the dead baby’s grandfather, has kept up pressure to get the case reopened.
A communications professor at Hong Kong Baptist College, Kuo-sin said he has written “at least 50 and probably as many as 100 letters” to authorities.
Kuo-sin, reached by telephone at Ohio University, where he is teaching for the summer, said he exchanged letters for more than a year with Stephen W. White, chief assistant to Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp, before “I began to see evidence that I was making progress in convincing him this was not an accidental death.”
A year ago, Kuo-sin said, the attorney general’s office convened a panel of experts to probe the case “and I have been waiting anxiously ever since until Mr. White wrote me they were recommending prosecution.”
In a telephone interview from his Sacramento office, White confirmed Kuo-sin’s recollection of their exchanges, but declined to say whether his recommendation to prosecute Yang was based on new evidence or a review of existing evidence.
White also declined to say whether his office would prosecute Yang if Bradbury’s office decides against charging Yang.
State Is ‘Waiting’
“Right now, we are just waiting to see what the Ventura district attorney’s office does based on our recommendation,” he said, “but there is no question that we have the authority to take over this case if we so choose.”
Bradbury was not available for comment this week, but Deputy Dist. Atty. Ken W. Riley said the review of the case should be completed in about two weeks.
Gemma Hsieh, the dead baby’s mother, said she stopped pushing for prosecution after Bradbury’s decision in 1983, but “I knew all along my father would not give up. If anyone can get something difficult done, he’s the one.”
Hsieh, who with her husband, Thomas, owns a furniture upholstery shop in Pacoima, emigrated from Taiwan to the United States in 1973.
They have lived in Simi Valley since 1980.
Yang, who has refused to discuss the case in the past, was unavailable for comment.
According to police reports, Yang told police the fall occurred while her own children, then ages 4 and 1, were napping in the Yang home.
The baby sitter said she placed Natalie in a highchair next to a table without attaching the safety strap. She then stepped to the stove to warm baby food.
Yang said she turned around a minute later to see the baby falling from the table. She told police she made a “desperation” leap to catch Natalie, but failed.
She said the baby fell head first, then twisted sideways and hit her body against a table leg.
In an effort to save her, paramedics took the baby first to Simi Valley Adventist Hospital, then Los Robles Medical Center in Thousand Oaks and finally to Childrens Hospital.