[UPDATE] Mother Charged in River Drowning of 6-month Old

By: Eyewitness News Email
By: Eyewitness News Email

[UPDATE] Hamilton County, Florida - 9-08-2011 5:00 pm

25-Year-Old Melissa Westberry and her attorney stood before Judge Vernon Douglas and asked to have her pre-trial hearing continued.

In July, a Grand Jury charged her with aggravated manslaughter in her son's drowning.

Back in May, Hamilton County Deputies say six-month-old Jace drowned at the Alapaha River when he climbed out of his car seat and rolled in. The water was only five inches deep.

Westberry pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Jace's father and his family were in court, but out of respect, we didn't show them during their grieving process.

A trial date has not been set. Attorneys from both sides are still building their cases.
[UPDATE] Hamilton County, Florida - 8-23 5:52 pm

Memories are all that remain for Jace Shaw's great aunt Sarah Eadie. Eadie is the little boy's father's aunt.

"Jace was a very happy chubby little boy. He smiled all the time. He was one of the babies that never cried," said Eadie.

She remembers the playful baby who she tried to visit every other weekend. Eadie says knowing she won't see that smile again hurts.

"To us it was such a tragedy because it could've been avoided," said Eadie.

On May 21st, Hamilton County Sheriff's Office says the baby drowned here at the Alapaha river.

He was sitting unrestrained in a car seat near the river when, deputies say he got out and drowned.

Reports show the mother, Melissa Westberry had a .09 blood alcohol level at the time of the drowning.

"It would be like someone run over you in a parking lot," said Eadie. "It's the same. She was intoxicated."

Two months later a grand jury charged her with Aggravated Manslaughter.

"We have heard that perhaps there is a plea deal on the table but we would like to see Ms. Westberry prosecuted to the fullest extent," said Eadie.

WCTV reached out tot he state attorney's office, they say they can't confirm or deny whether there is a plea deal on the table.

Westberry is set to be arraigned September 8th.

[UPDATE] Hamilton County, Florida - 8-23 9:31 am

Hamilton County Sheriff's office says the charges will be formally brought before 25-year-old Melissa Westberry on September 8th.

Jace Shaw drowned in five to six inches of water.

Authorities say there was a time lapse between the time the baby drowned and when they were called.

Deputies say they found a pack of beer at the scene.

The State Attorney's office says there is no timetable on when the trial will start.

But they don't expect it to begin before next year.

[UPDATE] Hamilton County, Florida - 7-14 - 2:25pm -

Based on evidence found, the Grand Jury has charged 24-year-old Melissa Westberry with Aggravated Manslaughter charges. The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office says she turned herself in at 8am.

The jury deliberated for an hour.


[UPDATE] Hamilton County, Florida - 7-13 - Noon -

A grand jury is hearing evidence in the drowning investigation of a Hamilton County six month old.

Today, we found out some of the things the Jury will be considering during this hearing. Deputies tell Eyewitness News that there was a pack of beer found at the scene, the baby drowned in five to six inches of water and there was a time lapse between when the baby drowned and when authorities were called.

(We first covered the incident in May.)

Hamilton County Sheriff's Office says just before five that day, Deputies received a call about an infant drowning in the Alapaha river.

Deputies say the child's mother, 24-year-old Melissa Westberry, had alcohol in her system at the time. All that evidence will be brought before the jury.

"What it does is put it in the hands of the people. In other words, we don't decide the charge we present it to the pool of grand jurors who hear the evidence and they make a decision," say Hamilton County Sheriff Harrell Reid.

We do know one investigator will be testifying. Sheriff Reid tells me he the State Attorney has received the mother's toxicology results and it will be presented at today's hearing.

Deputies tell me the toddler's mother was not in the courtroom today. They jury will have to decide based on the evidence if they will proceed with charges, but the court has 15 days before it can release the ruling.


[UPDATE] 7-01 3:50 pm

Hamilton County Sheriff Harrell Reid says he will know by next week when the evidence will be presented to the grand jury.

Deputies say on May 21st just before 5 pm, the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office received a call about an infant drowning in the Alapaha river.

Authorities say they are still awaiting the toxicology results of the 24-year-old mother, Melissa Westberry.

The grand Jury will decide if the mother will face charges.


[UPDATE] 5-25 6:41 pm

Alisa Simpson says her heart broke when she heard an infant drowned at the Alapaha River.

But says she's disturbed after hearing the mother was drinking at the time of the incident.

"It's sad that it happened but it did and probably a major wake-up call you know for the parents," said Simpson.

The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office says Saturday just before 5 p.m. 6-month-old Jace Shaw drowned.

He was sitting unstrapped in a car seat when he got out and made his way to the river.

Deputies say they tried resuscitating the infant but he didn't make it.

Authorities say his mother, 24-year-old Melissa Westberry was at the river with friends.

They say alcohol was in her system and are awaiting test to see how much.

"We don't know if that was a contributing cause or not but certainly we're taking every precaution and want to find out exactly what happened," said Sheriff Harrell Reid.

Sheriff Reid says they do believe it was an accident but adds the State Attorney says pending results of the alcohol test they might have to bring the evidence before a grand jury.

[UPDATE] 5-25 2:45pm -

The baby's mother had alcohol in her system, but it is unknown if it was a contributing factor or how much alcohol she had consumed, says Hamilton County Sheriff Harrell Reid. It is known that the baby was in a car seat near the river and somehow got out.

Stay will WCTV as more details develop.


A 6-month old drowned over the weekend, according to the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office. The drowning took place on 4:47pm on May 21st near the Alapaha river near Jennings, Florida. The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office is handling case. HCSO would not release the mother’s name, but said that she is 24-years-old.

WCTV has a reporter at the scene. Stay with WCTV for updates.

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