Fired DHS worker admits guilt in death of Danieal Kelly

Posted: July 16, 2009

Laura Sommerer told a judge that she wanted to be a social worker to make a difference in children's lives. Yesterday, the fired Department of Human Services worker pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the death three years ago of 14-year-old Danieal Kelly.

"I deeply regret that I did not recognize the severity of her situation and could not prevent Danieal's death," a tearful Sommerer, 34, told Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner.

"I never intended to cause any harm," she said. "I never intended for anyone to be in danger."

As part of a plea deal, Sommerer, of 11th Street near Ritner, South Philly, was sentenced to four years' probation and 100 hours of community service.

She was one of two now-fired DHS workers charged in Danieal's death. Sommerer also faced a charge of recklessly endangering another person. Prosecutors withdrew that charge as part of the plea agreement.

Danieal, who suffered from cerebral palsy, was found dead of starvation and neglect Aug. 4, 2006, in her mother's Parkside home on Memorial Avenue near Viola Street. Maggots squirmed inside her bone-deep bedsores.

In reading a summary of facts yesterday, Ed McCann, chief of the District Attorney's Homicide Unit, said that Sommerer had been assigned to Danieal's case Oct. 4, 2005. She was supposed to make sure that a private agency contracted by DHS, MultiEthnic Behavioral Health, provided Danieal with necessary services.

But during her supervision, Danieal did not visit a doctor or attend school. In her 10 months as Danieal's social worker, Sommerer visited the home five times. On the last, June 29, 2006, she "did not even walk in the room where Danieal lay in bed," McCann said.

Sommerer was asked by a grand jury if she had talked to Danieal during her visits. "Maybe to say hi, that kind of thing, not more," she had testified.

McCann said that the sentence was appropriate because Sommerer has no prior record, has been cooperative and has done "good works in the community."

Sommerer told the judge that she was sorry about Danieal's death and that she took her work at DHS "very seriously."

Defense attorney Nathan J. Andrisani said that his client graduated from Villanova University to become a social worker to help people. "This offense certainly was not an intentional act," he said.

The judge told Sommerer: "I know that you are a good person, and I know that you've done good deeds." He expressed dismay that "previous leaders [at DHS] . . . have been able to walk away with no responsibility" in Danieal's death.

A dozen of Sommerer's family members and friends, including her husband, mother and two brothers, were at the hearing. Some wept and hugged Sommerer afterward. They and Sommerer declined comment.

Four other defendants still face trial: former DHS social worker Dana Poindexter; co-founder of now-closed MultiEthnic, Mickal Kamuvaka; a former MultiEthnic social worker, Julius Murray; and Danieal's father, Daniel Kelly.

Danieal's mother, Andrea Kelly, pleaded guilty in April to third-degree murder and endangering the welfare of a child and was sentenced as part of an agreement to 20 to 40 years in state prison. *

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