ST. JOHNSBURY – The Department for Children and Families was involved with the family of a St. Johnsbury toddler found dead Saturday morning, a neighbor said Wednesday.
Mason Keithan’s older sister was removed from mother Alicia Mitchell’s custody but the girl had recently been returning to the apartment for visits, neighbor John Sullivan, 52, said Wednesday.
Sullivan said he believes the parents were using drugs.
Mitchell and the boy’s father, Vincent Keithan, are “known drug addicts,” Sullivan said. “They shoot up anything they can get.”
State officials with knowledge of the situation also confirmed Wednesday that DCF had contact with Mason’s family.
If so, this would be the third child death in three months involving a family that had been connected with DCF. Dezirae Sheldon, 2, of Poultney, died in late February, and Peighton Geraw, 14 months, of Winooski, died in April. Police have ruled both of those cases homicides. Those deaths have prompted public complaints and at least four investigations into DCF.
Mason’s parents called 911 Saturday morning reporting that the 22-month-old was unresponsive, police said. Medical personnel ruled him dead before police arrived at the scene, police said.
A state police investigation into the death is underway. A post-mortem examination showed no signs of physical trauma, however the cause and manner of death are pending the results of a toxicology screening, police said.
Sullivan said DCF workers and police rarely, if ever, respond to the Mountain View Drive housing complex, despite repeated calls from him and others about the well-being of several children who live there. DCF should have removed Mason from the home, too, he said.
“DCF don’t do nothing up here,” Sullivan said.
DCF Commissioner Dave Yacovone on Wednesday said the law prohibits him from confirming or denying whether DCF was involved with Mason or any of his family.
“The state’s attorney asked me not to discuss all the particulars of the case,” Yacovone said.
Caledonia County court documents reveal both parents have criminal records.
The couple were arrested in February for allegedly stealing bridge parts to sell as scrap metal, according to WCAX.
Keithan is serving a work crew sentence for petty larceny and was convicted in the past of domestic assault, disorderly conduct, unlawful mischief, possession of heroin, petty larceny and simple assault, according to the Department of Corrections.
Mitchell is not in DOC custody. In the past, she was convicted of leaving the scene of an accident, operating a vehicle without the owner’s consent and violating conditions of release, according to DOC.
Police on Wednesday would not confirm the name of Mason’s older sister nor would they comment on DCF’s involvement. Police have been in contact with Mitchell as recently as Wednesday afternoon, state police said.
Keithan has an open case in Caledonia County Superior Court for retail theft. He is accused of stealing a carton of cigarettes from Kinney Drugs worth about $80.
According to the police affidavit, Mitchell was with Keithan during the Feb. 1 drugstore theft.