Thursday, February 11, 2010

DCF pays $250,000 settlement for 2-month-old girl killed by custodial father (New Port Richey, Florida)

Dad THOMAS LUDWIG was granted custody of his twin newborn girls by the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), since the mother was in prison on grand theft charges. Within two months, one infant was dead from blunt force trauma to the head, and the other had a broken leg. A state review has determined that DCF failed to protect the murdered infant and failed to check on whether Dad could adequately care for the babies. The mother sued DCF, and the agency settled.

Meanwhile, Dad is still facing trial on 1st-degree murder charges.

DCF pays $250,000 in infant's death

Published: February 11, 2010

NEW PORT RICHEY - The Florida Department of Children & Families has agreed to pay settlements totaling $250,000 in the case of a 2-month-old girl who died after she was improperly placed in her biological father's care.

Circuit Judge Walter Schafer approved the settlements during a hearing Wednesday.

Diella Ludwig and her twin sister, Shyloh, were born in October 2008 while their mother was serving a sentence for grand theft at Lowell Correctional Institution in Marion County. The children were placed in the custody of their father, Thomas Ludwig, who lived in west Pasco County.

Authorities received a report of abuse two months later: Diella died of blunt trauma to the head on Dec. 21, 2008; Shyloh suffered a broken leg.

Ludwig, now 25, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in Diella's death. He is awaiting trial.

A state review found that child welfare authorities failed to protect Diella and that no one checked whether Ludwig could properly care for his daughters. Caseworkers also failed to follow up to ensure Ludwig had access to services such as parenting classes.

The children's mother, Nicholle West, retained lawyer Darryl Rouson to look into filing a lawsuit against DCF over its poor handling of the case. The agency agreed to negotiate, Rouson said Tuesday.

As part of the settlements, the department agreed to pay $150,000 to settle a wrongful death claim.

More than $92,000 will be paid to Diella's estate. The money will be divided up, placed into accounts and used for the care of West's three other children: Colton, 11, Dalton, 7, and McKenzie, 2.

West lost custody of the children between 2005 and 2008, according to a DCF report reviewing Diella's death.

West, 31, will receive $20,000, and the remainder will go toward legal fees.

DCF also agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a separate claim on behalf of Shyloh, who is now in foster care. After subtracting attorney fees, $72,993 will be paid for her care.

All money paid out for the benefit of the children will be overseen by professional administrators appointed by the court.

"The hope from our perspective is that the surviving siblings will see some good out of the sibling sister's death," said DCF attorney Jeff Goodis.

Ludwig's roommates told detectives that when he arrived home on Dec. 20, 2008, one of the twins was crying, so he decided to put them to bed. He returned to the bedroom later and violently snatched one of the children from a stroller, snapping her head backward, a report states.

Ludwig then cursed at the child and roughly placed her on a bed, according to the report. Witnesses told investigators they later heard a loud bang, then the crying stopped.

Later the same night, Ludwig and his roommates left their house to watch a house fire. The children were left home alone. The adults returned about 10 minutes later, and Ludwig went into the bedroom and screamed, reports state.

A roommate ran into the room and saw one of the twins motionless on a pillow. Diella died at a Tampa hospital the following day.

Ludwig was arrested on Jan. 26, 2009.

Reporter Todd Leskanic can be reached at (813) 731-8098.