Journal & Courier

Bout with legal system breaks family's heart

November 3, 2007

FRANCESVILLE -- The sign along U.S. 421 describes this town of 900 as a "A SMALL TOWN WITH A BIG HEART."

But Jessica Salyer's heart was troubled. She was born with tricuspid atresia, a heart defect that causes the right ventricle to be underdeveloped. She had her first heart surgery at the age of 2, and was on medication to treat her heart condition and seizures for much of her life.

"At first, she just wanted to be a doctor and help little children like her," said Lynnette Finnegan, Salyer's mother. "After her grandmother died of cancer, she wanted to work at Riley's to help little children with cancer."

On Dec. 20, 2005, Salyer, 14, died from sudden cardiac arrest caused by a prescription error. Her dose of Coumadin was inexplicably increased to many times the safe limit while she was taken off her seizure medication altogether.

Lynnette Finnegan and Salyer's stepfather, Roman, thought the worst was over when they buried their little girl. But at a time when the family tried to pull together, it was torn apart by criminal charges.

The Pulaski County prosecutor's office alleged that Salyer died from head trauma.

Salyer's mother was charged in April 2007 with neglecting a dependent resulting in serious injury, a Class B felony. Lynnette and Roman Finnegan were both charged with neglecting a dependent, a Class D felony.

The Indiana Department of Child Services in Pulaski County removed Lynnette's other two daughters from her Francesville home when the investigation began in November, 2006. Her son, who was old enough to live on his own, moved out.

Roman Finnegan, who worked for the Indiana Department of Corrections, was suspended from work because he was charged with a felony. Lynnette could not work because she suffers from epilepsy.

Together, they faced the daunting challenge of fight--ing criminal charges and trying to get their children back while living on virtually no income. For the next six months, their full-time job was investigating their daughter's death.

"There are some days you sit here and there's no gas in the car and you can't go anywhere," Roman Finnegan said last week.

The Finnegans' living room is largely empty because they sold much of their furniture to make ends meet. One of the items they were forced to sell was a cabinet where they kept pictures of their deceased daughter and her collection of angels.
Last week, the bank foreclosed on their home.

Then, nearly as swiftly as they began, the Finnegan family's legal troubles began to wind down.

Lynnette Finnegan was reunited with her daughters in August.

Jasper County Coroner Gordon Klockow -- who dealt with Salyer's case because she was taken to the Jasper County Hospital the day she died -- said in his verdict July 17 that the skull fracture investigators alleged was caused by head trauma was actually caused by the autopsy itself.

In late October, charges were dropped against Roman. Friday, they were dropped against Lynnette as well.

Roman Finnegan expects to be able to return to work next week.

But as of Friday, the Department of Child Services still had a case involving the Finnegan family pending in court, according to DCS staff counsel Mike Boonstra.

Roman and Lynnette Finnegan said Friday that they weren't quite ready to celebrate the end of the criminal charges against them. They were still emotionally and financially devastated by what in their opinion was an unwarranted ordeal.

"It's going to be hard for me to have any relief," Lynnette Finnegan said, "until they stand in front of the judge and explain why this happened."

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