Four women arrested after child found living in squalor

Two stolen bottles of Coca-Cola led Zachary police to a duplex Friday where they found two women, a 3-year-old girl and several animals living in conditions bad enough for the city to label the home “unlivable.”

Officers arrested four women accused of improper supervision of a minor after finding the child living in squalid conditions. The toddler was housed in a half of the duplex that lacked running water, reeked of animal feces and had trash and drug paraphernalia scattered about.

“It was a very, very, very nasty situation,” Zachary Police Chief David McDavid said Saturday.

He said some of his officers vomited when they came out of the house.

“When you’ve got grown men getting sick to their stomach, you know it’s bad,” McDavid said.

The child was placed into the custody of the state Department of Child and Family Services.

The child’s living conditions were discovered after Zachary police received a call Friday morning about someone stealing two bottles of soda from the Ambrosia General Store.

Police used surveillance camera footage to identify the suspect as Caitlin Lanehart, 21, according to affidavits of probable cause.

When police arrived at 1132 Willow Creek Drive to arrest Lanehart, they were struck by a foul odor emanating from inside the home, the affidavits say.

The child’s mother, Porcha McGraw was laying on a mattress on the floor surrounded by drug paraphernalia and also was placed under arrest, the affidavits say.

Inside the home, officers found the appalling living conditions.

They also found seven dogs and two cats confined to other parts of the house with insufficient food and water and surrounded by their own feces, the affidavits say.

McDavid said it appeared that the animals were kept in the front of the house while McGraw and Lanehart lived in the back.

Officers found destroyed couches and chairs missing big chunks of fabric, McDavid said.

It looked as if the furniture was eaten by the dogs, McDavid said. He said he didn’t go to the back of the house but was told by his officers that conditions were even worse back there.

Lanehart, 9249 Mason Drive, and McGraw, 31746 Netterville Road, both of Denham Springs, were each booked into Parish Prison on counts of improper supervision of a juvenile, possession of drug paraphernalia, confined animals without food or water and contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile.

Lanehart also was booked on theft of goods and McGraw was booked on a fugitive warrant. The Denham Springs addresses for the two were listed in booking records.

East Baton Rouge Parish Animal Control took the animals away and the Zachary Fire Department monitored oxygen and carbon monoxide levels inside the home.

A hazardous-materials unit from the Baton Rouge Fire Department took ammonia readings and found 5 parts per million in the home, which is not classified as dangerous, department spokesman Curt Monte said.

“Prolonged exposure after 1 part per million can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat,” Monte said, adding ammonia is not classified as dangerous until it reaches 35 parts per million.

During the investigation, officers learned the child actually was supposed to be staying with Stephanie Tarver, 47, who lived in the other side of the duplex and rented out the empty side to Lanehart and McGraw, according to the affidavit of probable cause for Tarver’s arrest.

Tarver is McGraw’s stepmother and knew about the squalid conditions in the other side of the duplex, McDavid said.

She was booked on counts of improper supervision of a minor, drug possession and confined animals without food or water, the affidavits say.

The child’s legal guardian, Marie Strohm, 42, also was booked on counts of improper supervision of a minor because she allowed the child to stay with Tarver, according to the affidavit of probable cause for her arrest.

McGraw told police Strohm did not take care of the child and passed her around to other people while collecting money from the government, the affidavit says.

McDavid said further counts could be pending against the women as the investigation proceeds.