Childrens' Deaths Linked By Same DHS Caseworkers

Friday, June 17th 2011, 10:06 pm
By: News 9

Jon Jordan, News 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Kelsey Smith-Briggs death has long been a black eye on DHS after it was believed the department didn't do enough to prevent her death. That's why her family isn't surprised to learn some of the case workers they dealt with are some of the same ones that supervised Serenity Deal.

"What she had to go through, I wish it could have been any of us. She was so little," said Janis Cotton, Kelsey's aunt.

Cotton is talked about her niece Kelsey Smith-Briggs who was killed in 2005. Her step-father and mother Raye Dawn Smith were both found guilty of enabling child abuse.

Cotton said Kelsey's death could have been prevented by the D-H-S workers overseeing her care.

"She had looked so terrible that I just went in to desperately beg for her life one more time and that's what I did, I begged him," Cotton said.

Cotton was referring to a visit she had in August 2005 with high ranking child welfare specialist Wes Priest. It was less than two months before Kelsey's death.

"I told him it would be life or death and I knew that it would," Cotton said. "And, as you know, nothing got done."

Priest is now on paid administrative leave following the brutal murder of Serenity Deal while in her father's care. Also on leave is DHS welfare specialist Donald Wheeler.

Kelsey's family members say they learned through DHS records that Wheeler didn't make the required number of visits to check on serenity.

It came as no surprise to Kelsey's family that both men were involved in Serenity Deal's case as well.

"Nobody ever listens," Cotton said. "The common sense does not seem to be there. The investigations are not there."

Wheeler and Priest were not the primary case workers in Kelsey's case, but the family said they did play enough of a role that, had they acted, they could have prevented her death.