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The grandmother of a 14-month-old girl who died last year of a fentanyl overdose reportedly sued Riverside County and three social workers, alleging they failed to remove the child from her drug-addicted mother despite warnings from hospital staff. Hazel Yoshida, the paternal grandmother of Allison Kittrell, is alleging wrongful death, negligence, and breach of mandatory duties.
According to police, Allison died in June 2020 after being exposed to trace amounts of fentanyl in her parents’ Riverside apartment. Per the lawsuit, staff at Loma Linda University Medical Center contacted the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services on Feb. 20, 2019, two days after Allison’s birth, and alerted them that the newborn had tested positive for amphetamines, barbiturates, and opiates, as did her mother, Tehra Waite. Social workers Marlene Zaragoza and Alejandra Juarez-Espinosa were assigned the case.
Waite reportedly had a history of methamphetamine, heroin, and fentanyl abuse, had used drugs throughout the duration of her pregnancy, and sought no treatment for her addiction. She had been admitted to Loma Linda University Medical Center on multiple occasions for drug-related problems in the months prior to Allison’s birth, and on one of those occasions left the hospital, against medical advice, only to return a few days later. Moreover, according to the lawsuit, Waite admitted during an interview she smoked methamphetamine twice and heroin once within 10 days prior to giving birth to Allison.
Zaragoza and Juarez-Espinosa learned this during their investigation, as well as the fact that Waite had not bought baby food, a bassinet, clothes, or diapers for her baby before she was born. Hospital staff reportedly cautioned Zaragoza about Waite. But instead of seeking a court order to detain Waite or have Allison placed in the custody of a relative, the social workers — with agreement by their supervisor, David Purcell — allowed the child to be with her mother. They allowed Waite to participate in a “voluntary safety plan” that included refraining from drug use.
However, as early as Mar. 4, 2019, Zaragoza had been informed that Waite had not been participating in her program and failed to report for a scheduled drug test. According to the lawsuit, Zaragoza told Waite there were possible consequences for failing to adhere to her program during an in-home visit on Mar. 13 that year. Purcell and Zaragoza closed the case three days later whilst not reporting Waite to police and leaving Allison in her care.
More than 14 months later, Riverside police responded to a 911 call made by Waite to her apartment after Allison stopped breathing. Allison died in the hospital. Detectives found evidence of drug use in the apartment, and it was later determined that Allison died from a fentanyl overdose. Trace amounts of the synthetic opiate were found in different places in the apartment, including on the couch. Waite and Allison’s father, Collin Kittrell, were arrested on Oct. 19 and Oct. 8, 2020, respectively, and charged with murder and child abuse.
Together with Purcell, Zaragoza and Juarez-Espinosa were all named as defendants in the lawsuit. “As a result of what they didn’t do here — as a result of their failure to act — this kid is dead. I pin it on them,” Yoshida’s attorney reportedly said.