Friends create memorial fund for dead toddler
By Nicole Paseka - Rapid City Journal

Community members continued to rally around the Saunsoci family Wednesday following the death of 20-month-old Nathaniel Saunsoci-Mitchell.

A family friend from Sioux City helped create a memorial fund in Nathaniel's honor to help pay for his funeral expenses and assist the family financially.

"Not only do they not have food, they don't have a headstone or anything," Will Meier said. "They wouldn't have asked if I wouldn't have prompted them."

Nathaniel, son of Jackie Saunsoci, 18, and Nathan Mitchell, died Sunday at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha after severe head injuries. He was living with a South Sioux City foster family when his injuries occurred.

Members of the Saunsoci family said Nathaniel also suffered two breaks in his collar bone, a broken leg and a dog-bite to his nose.

Meier said when he first asked the Saunsoci family if there was anything he could bring them, they first responded "apples," then "grapes." They also mentioned they did not have a headstone for Nathaniel.

"It's a different kind of poverty. Unless you've been down there, it's difficult to understand," Meier said.

Donations to the family of Nathaniel Saunsoci-Mitchell can be made in person or by mail to Central Bank in Sioux City, 522 Fourth St., P.O. Box 776, 51101. Amy Chace, vice president and branch manager of Central Bank, is overseeing the donations. The bank can be contacted at 712-293-2265.

While friends assisted the family financially, Dakota County officials continued their investigation into the child's death.

"Children are the most vulnerable people in our society, and it's important for everybody to know that this sort of thing is treat appropriately," Dakota County Attorney Ed Matney said on Wednesday.

Matney said it is "difficult to say" how long the investigation could take.

"These sorts of things take a long time to get all the materials in. We want to make sure we have everything in place," he said. "The autopsy report can take anywhere from a week up to a month to get the full report in."

After Matney receives information from the investigators and evaluates the autopsy report, he will then decide if criminal charges will be filed. He declined to speculate on how long that will take.

No criminal charges have been filed against Nathaniel's most recent foster parents at this time.

Matney said he plans to interact with members of the Saunsoci family during the investigation.

"I think that the family members of this child ... they need time to get through the process and to grieve. I wish them well through that process. It's obviously an extremely difficult process."

Matney added that the investigation has been under way since Friday, when Nathaniel was first seen at the Mercy Medical Center emergency room in Sioux City.

Nathaniel's burial will be at 10 a.m. today at the Omaha Indian Cemetery in Macy, Neb. A traditional dinner will follow at the Alfred Gilpin Building in Macy.

Previous foster parents of Nathaniel's, not the ones he was living with most recently, were shocked to learn of his death.

"He was just a sweet little boy, and I wished they would have left him here," said Susan Goodburn. She and her husband, Robert Goodburn, cared for Nathaniel from December 2005 to early March 2006. Nathaniel was not in the Goodburns' home when he received the injuries that ended his life.

Goodburn remembered Nathaniel as a wonderful child who suffered from severe asthma.

"He was wheezing all the time," she said. "He could be fine one minute and not the next. You really had to stay on top of it."

Goodburn was upset to learn Nathaniel was in a foster home with five other children because he required extra care for his severe asthma.

Meier, the family friend, also mentioned Nathaniel's battles with asthma. He said the asthma made it more difficult for young Jackie Saunsoci to care for her infant son.

"She was a good mother, and the health issues were so severe," Meier said.

"(Nathaniel) just had it brutal ... battling his health condition, then this."

Tisha Vega fighting prosecution in Schuyler beating case

    * Story
    * Discussion

Tisha Vega fighting prosecution in Schuyler beating case
January 13, 2010 

SCHUYLER, Neb. -- A woman already imprisoned for abusing her South Sioux City  foster child, who later died, is fighting prosecution on a separate attempted-murder charge.

Tisha Vega is one of four suspects in the July beating of 28-year-old Miguel Garcia. Others charged in the crime are her husband, Carlos Vega, and two Schuyler men, Hermelindo Perez-Gomez and Arnoldo Marroquin-Romero.

Tisha and Carlos Vega were both arrested on charges that include attempted murder for the assault on Garcia, who was Tisha Vega's neighbor in Schuyler.

Garcia suffered an epidural hematoma and cracked skull in the assault.

A prosecutor said Wednesday that a county judge has ordered Tisha Vega to trial, but she is fighting the order.

In August, the 35-year-old Vega was given consecutive one-year sentences on two counts of misdemeanor negligent child abuse in Dakota County for injuries suffered by Nathaniel Saunsoci Mitchell, her 20-month-old foster child.

Nathaniel, one of 10 children living in the Vega home, died at an Omaha hospital on Sept. 24, 2006, of closed-head injuries.

Vega was arrested in March in Pennsylvania after the Journal found her address through a public-records search and provided it to Dakota County authorities.

She was charged with manslaughter for Nathaniel's death, but the charge was amended as part of a plea deal.

Tisha Vega and Husband Face Attempted Murder Charges
Jul 30, 2009 8:12 

Tisha Vega is less than a month away from being sentenced for the death of a former foster child.  Now her, and her husband are facing attempted murder charges after attacking a neighbor.

The 34-year-old Vega was the foster mother of 20 month-old Nathaniel Saunsoci of South Sioux City.  Investigators say he died in 2006 from blunt force trauma to the head while in her care.  Vega was originally charged with manslaughter, but ended up pleading no contest to a reduced charge of two counts of child abuse.  She is set to be sentenced in late august.

According to court documents, Tisha and her husband, Carlos, were arrested Sunday after assaulting a neighbor at their home in Schuyler, Nebraska.

The two apparently went into the unlocked home and beat and strangled the man, cracking his skull and causing an epidural hematoma.  Both Tisha and Carlos are being charged with attempted murder, aiding and abetting assault, and strangulation.

Carlos later mentioned to police that Tisha had told him someone had tried to rape her earlier in the morning.

When question about the assault, Tisha simply said she had no idea what they were talking about.

Earlier this month Tisha was arrested for a d-u-i. 

Saunsoci-Mitchell case: Family wants answers, arrest
Date: 2009-03-22 - Molly Montag

For more than eight months, Tisha Vega has been wanted for manslaughter in the death of her 20-month-old foster child, Nathaniel Saunsoci-Mitchell.

She is accused of causing the Omaha Indian boy's death in late 2006 but as of Friday afternoon had not been arrested. Although authorities would not discuss her whereabouts, public documents indicate Vega and her husband, Carlos, live in the eastern Pennsylvania town of Oaks.

Nathaniel's biological family says the boy deserves justice.

"Any time a life is lost, you want answers," said Eleanor Baxter, Nathaniel's great-grandmother. "So far we haven't got answers."

Authorities initially provided little information about efforts to find Vega. However, the Dakota County Sheriff's Office said Friday officials were attempting to contact Pennsylvania authorities after the Journal provided information about the Oaks address.

The circumstances surrounding Nathaniel's life -- and his death -- were complicated.

He was a fragile child, suffering from severe asthma and food allergies, taken from a teen mother who battled substance abuse. Nathaniel was placed with an Iowa foster family, next with relatives on the Omaha Indian Reservation and then with his final family -- Carlos and Tisha Vega.

During his stay with the Vegas, he suffered serious injuries -- a broken leg, broken clavicle and dog bite on the face -- before he was hospitalized Sept. 22, 2006, with a fatal brain injury. He died two days later.

The case stalled for almost two years, until an arrest warrant for Tisha Vega was issued July 11.

The case

Former co-workers say Tisha Vega, 34, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, worked as a public health nurse at Carl T. Curtis Health Center on the Omaha Indian Reservation in Macy, Neb.

She and her husband lived at 409 Southridge Drive in South Sioux City. Nathaniel was one of five tribal foster children in the home, which also included five of the couple's own children.

In the months after Nathaniel's death, former Dakota County Attorney Ed Matney said potential suspects included the Vegas and an unnamed baby sitter. He said the child was at a baby sitter's house earlier on the day he died but had been at the Vegas' house "several hours" before being taken to the hospital.

A search warrant application alleges Nathaniel suffered fatal, nonaccidental injuries while with Tisha Vega at her home. An accompanying affidavit alleges that Tisha Vega injured and killed Nathaniel "without malice upon a sudden quarrel or unintentionally while in the commission of an unlawful act."

Carlos and Tisha Vega left South Sioux City after Nathaniel's death but before officials announced they were suspects.

Authorities said the couple went to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in western South Dakota, headquarters of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and moved several times after that.

According to Dakota County Assessor's Office records of the sale of the Southridge Drive house, which closed Dec. 29, Carlos and Tisha Vega listed their new address as 1311 Egypt Road in Oaks, Pa.

The city is northwest of Philadelphia, just north of Valley Forge National Historic Park.

The assessor's document is dated Jan. 7, but Carlos Vega listed the same address as the location of his business, La Juanita Drywall, in a Pennsylvania Department of State filing dated March 2.

The phone number listed in online advertisements for the business is the same number the couple gave local real estate professionals when selling their home.

Betty Sherr, the Century 21 agent who handled the sale, said she did not know there was an arrest warrant for Tisha Vega. Sherr said she believed Tisha Vega had been back to the Sioux City area three or four times to deal with the sale.

Only rumors

Jacki Saunsoci, Nathaniel's mother, says most of what she hears about the investigation into her son's death are rumors from her relatives. Several months ago the rumor was that the case had been closed, although that wasn't true.

"I still think about (Nathaniel) every day," Saunsoci said, tears filling her eyes. "I don't know what to believe because I have my own thoughts."

Although she used to be in contact with Matney, the former county attorney, Jacki Saunsoci said she stopped calling him when the case stalled. She has not been in contact with Dakota County Attorney Kim Watson, who was elected last year.

"It always seemed to me like they never even tried," Saunsoci said. "(That) they just let it go."

South Sioux City Police Chief Scot Ford, whose department investigated Nathaniel's death, said the case had been turned over to the county attorney for prosecution.

Nebraska State Patrol investigator Doug Johnson, who signed the arrest warrant application, declined to comment on the investigation and referred questions to Watson's office.

Staffers in Watson's office told the Journal earlier this month that someone had been charged in the case but did not say who.

On Friday, the Journal provided information about the Egypt Road address and Carlos Vega's business to a member of Watson's staff and to the Dakota County Sheriff's Office.

Watson said there was nothing to update in the case until Vega is arrested. She said any information on attempts to find Vega should come from law enforcement.

Dakota County Sheriff's Deputy Mike Kreegar said Friday he was trying to make contact with Pennsylvania authorities to learn more about the Vegas' whereabouts. A decision to arrest Tisha Vega, if she's found, hinges on whether Watson's office would extradite Vega to Nebraska, he said.

Watson did not return a phone message Friday asking whether she would pursue extradition.

Breakout:

-- Jan. 20, 2005 --Nathaniel Saunsoci-Mitchell, son of Nathan Mitchell and Jacki Saunsoci, is born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

-- January 2006 -- Iowa authorities place Nathaniel in foster care after they take custody from his mother, who is seeking substance-abuse treatment.

-- Feb. 24, 2006 -- Woodbury County Juvenile Court transfers custody of Nathaniel to the Omaha Tribe, saying his case falls under the Indian Child Welfare Act. Tribal authorities place him with his mother's sister, Tiara.

-- Summer of 2006 -- Tribal authorities remove Nathaniel from his relatives and place him with Carlos and Tisha Vega, of South Sioux City. Authorities say he was one of 10 children in the household, which included five Tribal foster children and five of the Vegas' own children.

-- July 11-27, 2006 -- Authorities believe a dog bit Nathaniel in the face during this time while he is in the care of Tisha Vega.

-- Sept. 1-13, 2006 -- Nathaniel allegedly fractures his left tibia while in the care of Tisha Vega.

-- Sept. 22, 2006 -- Nathaniel arrives at Mercy Medical Center -- Sioux City with a head injury.

-- Sept. 24, 2006 -- Nathaniel dies at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

-- July 11, 2008 -- An arrest warrant is issued for Tisha Vega, 34. She's wanted for a charge of manslaughter. Court documents allege Nathaniel suffered fatal injuries while in her custody at her home.

January 13, 2010
Neb. woman fights prosecution

SCHUYLER, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska woman already imprisoned for child abuse is fighting prosecution on a separate attempted-murder charge.

Tisha Vega is one of four suspects in the beating of 28-year-old Miguel Garcia last July.

Prosecutor Francis Botelho said Wednesday that a county judge ordered Vega to trial, but she is fighting that order. A Colfax County district judge will rule on the matter.

In August, the 35-year-old Vega was given consecutive one-year sentences on two counts of misdemeanor negligent child abuse in Dakota County.

Before a plea deal, Vega had been charged with manslaughter in the 2006 death of her 20-month-old foster child in South Sioux City.

April trial set for 1 suspect in Neb. beating case

SCHUYLER, Neb. (AP) _ One of four suspects charged in the beating of a Schuyler man will stand trial April 7. A Colfax County District Court judge set the date in the case of Carlos Vega. Court documents say he lives in Norristown, Pa. Vega, his wife Tisha Vega and two other men, Hermelindo Perez-Gomez and Arnoldo Marroquin-Romero _ all of Schuyler _ are charged in the July beating of 28-year-old Miguel Garcia. Garcia alleged that Vega tried to strangle him during the beating. Vega has pleaded not guilty to strangulation and three related charges. Tisha Vega is fighting prosecution on an attempted murder charge in the case. She's already imprisoned for abusing her 20-month-old foster child in South Sioux City, who later died. 

Friday, January 15, 2010
Plea Deal in Foster Child's Death Upsets Family

Former foster mother charged with manslaugher pleads no contest to child abuse instead

DAKOTA CITY, Neb. -- The family of a 20-month-old boy who died in foster care nearly three years ago is hurting anew now that the woman who was charged with causing his death will be punished only for child abuse.

Tisha Vega, who was Nathaniel Saunsoci-Mitchell's foster mother when he died in 2006, had been charged with felony manslaughter, but prosecutors amended the charge Thursday morning.

In exchange, Vega, 34, pleaded no contest to two counts of misdemeanor child abuse. She faces up to two years in prison and a fine when she is sentenced Aug. 25 in Dakota County District Court. According to court documents, she also agreed to repay Nathaniel's family for the cost of his funeral.

American Indian activist Frank LaMere of South Sioux City called the legal resolution of the case an "insult." And Evan Saunsoci, Nathaniel's grandfather, said the family is hurt by prosecutors' decision to accept a plea to misdemeanor charges.

"If it's just child abuse, how come Nathaniel still ain't here?" Saunsoci asked.

District court officials said the child abuse charges stem from when Nathaniel was bitten in the face by a dog and when he broke his leg, injuries he suffered while in Vega's care. The Omaha Tribe had placed Nathaniel, whose parents, Jacki Saunsoci and Nathan Mitchell, are tribal members, with Vega in her South Sioux City home. He was one of 10 children in the household, five of whom were foster children.

Nathaniel died from a brain injury Sept. 24, 2006, at an Omaha hospital. His family and other members of the Indian community waited for authorities to make an arrest, but even after investigators issued an arrest warrant for Vega in July 2008, they did not immediately arrest her, as she had moved out of the area.

In March, the Journal conducted its own investigation, found a Pennsylvania address for Vega and provided it to police. The day after the Journal ran a story about its search for the suspect, Vega was arrested at that address.

"(The arrest) just takes away a lot of the anguish over no justice for Nathaniel," the boy's grandmother, Olivia Saunsoci, said then.

But on Thursday, LaMere said he was taken aback by the latest developments in the case and said he plans to discuss them with members of the four local tribes: Winnebago, Omaha, Ponca and Santee Sioux.

"I am stunned," LaMere said. "This young man was loved. Judging by what I heard today you wouldn't think that. There is no justice for Nathaniel. Only insult."

Dakota County Attorney Kim Watson could not immediately be reached for comment to answer questions about why prosecutors allowed Vega to plead to lesser charges or whether they would continue to investigate Nathaniel's death. Watson refuses to communicate with the Journal except by e-mail.

Evan Saunsoci said he plans to pray for Vega, the judge and the prosecutors. If Vega didn't kill Nathaniel, Saunsoci said, he believes she knows who did and will have to live with that for the rest of her life.

"It's going to eat away at her," he said. "It's going to bother her to where she may not live a normal life."

-- Journal writer Dolly A. Butz contributed to this report.

Tracking the news

What we knew: Former South Sioux City resident Tisha Vega, 34, was charged with felony manslaughter for causing the death of Nathaniel Saunsoci-Mitchell, her former foster child, when he lived with her in September 2006.

What's new: Vega pleaded no contest to two lesser charges, misdemeanor child abuse, at a hearing Thursday in Dakota County District Court. American Indian activist Frank LaMere called the new developments an "insult."

What's next: She faces up to two years in prison and a fine when she is sentenced Aug. 25.

Vega Sentenced in 2006 Saunsoci Death

(DAKOTA CITY, NE) Tisha Vega will spend two years behind bars in connection with the 2006 death of Nathanial Saunsoci. Last month Vega accepted a deal, pleading guilty to two counts of child abuse. Tuesday she received two consecutive one-year terms for the charges. Despite the ruling, Nathanial’s family still want answers and closure.

“Justice in this case is still a long way off.”

It’s been almost three years since 20-month-old Nathanial Saunsoci died in September 2006.

“There’s not a day that doesn’t go by that we remember Nathanial with tears in our eyes,” says Eleanor Saunsoci-Baxter, Nathanial’s great grandmother.

“His little spirit is still here,” says Mary Saunsoci, Nathanial’s great aunt.

Tisha Vega will now spend two years behind bars after pleading guilty to lesser charges in the case.

“It was a slap on the hand,” says Saunsoci-Baxter. “When they say children are sacred, I believe that. And today it was not so.”

Since Vega did not plead to charges involving Nathanial’s death, the case is still open.

“We are still seeking information regarding Nathanial’s death. Someone knows what happened to this child. We need that person to come forward,” says Kim Watson, Dakota County Attorney.

Nathanial’s family believes Vega did not get what she deserves.

“Her sentence is going to come when she does meet her Creator and it won’t be til that day,” says Saunsoci.

Native American child advocate Frank Lamere says the community must learn from this loss.

“We must take away from this tragedy a knowledge that we must see the red flags that are evident in foster care and adoptive when our children show up beaten and broken like Nathanial,” says Frank Lamere, Native American child advocate.

Nathanial’s family wants closure and they will keep fighting until they get it.

“It’s not over. There has to be more to this. We want justice to be served,” says Saunsoci-Baxter.

Vega will serve her time at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women in York.

But this isn’t the end of her legal troubles in the state. Vega appeared in Colfax County Tuesday for a plea hearing in connection with DUI, 3rd-degree assault, and willful reckless driving charges from June. That hearing was continued until September 15th.

On that same day, Vega and her husband Carlos will also be in court for attempted murder charges from a July incident in Schuyler, Nebraska.

Reported by Erika Thomas. You can contact her at ethomas@kmeg.com.






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