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Telford couple charged with abusing infant son

A Telford couple faces charges of aggravated child abuse and aggravated child neglect following their indictment by a grand jury earlier this month.
Joe F. Whitaker, 41, and Charlotte I. Whitaker, 32, both of 291 Rauhof Road, Telford, are each charged with one count of aggravated child abuse and one count of aggravated child neglect.
According to Washington County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Jared Taylor, authorities first got involved on Aug. 15 after an ambulance was called to the Whitakers’ residence in regard to a 7-month-old child having breathing problems.
“There were concerns by EMS that the symptoms were child abuse related,” Taylor said. “That was also the sentiment of doctors at the medical center.”
According to Taylor, medical staff at the Johnson City Medical Center had to work on the Whitakers’ infant son for more than three hours just to get him stable enough to be flown to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville for further treatment of his injuries.
The baby suffered bilateral retinal hemorrhaging and a brain bleed, Taylor said. “The brain had actually shifted because of the swelling,” he added.
The lack of any skull fractures indicates the injuries were likely caused by what is commonly referred to as shaken baby syndrome, or SBS, Taylor said.
SBS typically refers to the intentional shaking of an infant. In a majority of SBS cases, there is no visible sign of external trauma.
The child was also malnourished, according to Taylor, who said the boy weighed less than 16 pounds when he was hospitalized.
Doctors also discovered two broken bones in the child’s right leg, Taylor said.
“These injuries are the result of two separate incidents,” he noted. “The broken bones happened up to a week before what doctors called the ‘life-threatening incident’ when EMS was called.”
The child has “significant vision damage” from the latter incident, Taylor said.
“There is a question of whether he’ll be able to ever see properly,” he added.
It is also unclear just how much permanent brain damage the child may have suffered.
“There’s still questions as to what type of life he’ll be able to have,” Taylor said. “They just don’t know the extent of the brain damage or what he’ll be capable of mentally, physically.”
The infant is currently in foster care through the state.
The Whitakers were arrested on Sept. 11 following the grand jury indictments earlier this month.
They are free on $100,000 bond each pending a court appearance in Washington County Criminal Court.