The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


August 23, 2013

Trial resumes today in Sunbury baby death case

— SUNBURY — The parents of a 1-year-old girl who died in 2010 testified Thursday in the bench trial of Bertha Dreese, the grandmother of the Sunbury baby who was left alone in a hot room for 19 hours.

After six hours of various witnesses’ testimony, a nurse took the stand and told Northumberland County President Judge Robert Sacavage that Dreese came to a medical clinic and admitted to her she lied to police.

The nurse told Sacavage that Dreese visited her clinic in November 2010 and admitted she told police she was in the home of Heidi Yocum and Lopaka Loner, parents of 1-year old Aneela Loner, watching the child, but she had lied about circumstances in the case and she couldn’t get the vision of her granddaughter out of her head.

Later that day, the nurse spoke with a retired state trooper about what she had learned.

The trooper, the nurse said, told her she didn’t have to be involved. The nurse was concerned because of patient confidentiality issues.

The nurse decided to wait, but after seeing a news report about the case, she spoke with Snyder County District Attorney Michael Piecuch, nearly 10 months after the meeting with Dreese, at an event they both attended.

Piecuch gave her advice, the nurse said, and before she knew it, she was at the Sunbury Police Department giving a statement.

Yocum, 30, of Lewisburg, had expected to receive probation for pleading guilty to misdemeanor endangering the welfare of children and was stunned when Northumberland County Judge Charles H. Saylor imposed a state sentence of up to five years on Jan. 14 for her role in the death of her child.

Yocum appeared in court and testified she trusted Dreese, her mother, with her children and said she lives with the fact that she didn’t check on Aneela Loner that day in October 2010.

Yocum had left her daughter at her Sunbury home with the child’s father, Lopaka Loner, and Dreese, 65, of Selinsgrove, on Oct. 15, 2010. The next morning, after being left unattended in a small room with a space heater, Aneela was found dead.

Dr. Sam Land, of Allentown, who testified as an expert witness in forensics, performed the autopsy and said Thursday that Aneela died of hyperthermia because her body overheated and began to break down.

Dreese continually covered her mouth and shook her head during the testimony.

Arresting officer Cpl. Jamie Quinn, of Sunbury police, also testified that after collecting evidence from the house she spoke with a representative of the Northumberland County coroner’s office, which purchased a thermometer that was able to measure the heat index inside the small room where Aneela Loner slept.

The room reached temperatures of nearly 100 degrees, and Land testified the baby was brought to him in sweat pants and long-sleeved shirt and was wrapped in a blanket at the time of death.

Lopaka Loner, 29, also testified that while he was out with Yocum’s brother working, Dreese was in charge of his daughter.

Yocum testified the reason Dreese was at the home was because she would often help out with the three children who lived in the city home because Yocum didn’t trust Lopaka Loner.

Lopaka Loner was sentenced in November by Sacavage to 11½ to 23 months in the Northumberland County Prison after pleading guilty to misdemeanors of endangering the welfare of children and recklessly endangering another person.

Dreese, who pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, was scheduled to be sentenced in November, but changed her plea and decided to have a jury trial.

After a jury was selected, Dreese waived her right to the case being heard by the jury and a bench trial was ordered.

The trial resumes at 10 a.m. today.


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