The father of a young child who died of alleged abuse this week in Dickson is speaking out, saying that if the Department of Children's Services had investigated his concerns, his little girl might still be alive.
"My daughter might still be here. She probably would still be here, if they had took a step to see what was going on," said the girl's father, Edward Mays.
Mays and the girl's mother are each currently serving a jail sentence on charges unrelated to the girl's death. Their daughter, 18-month-old Samara Smith, died Thursday morning in Dickson County.
Exactly how the child died remains under investigation, but her mother's boyfriend, Edwin Benesch, is now charged in the death.
Mays told Channel 4 News in a jailhouse interview Friday that he repeatedly contacted DCS, asking who was keeping his three children since he and their mother were both in jail.
"I wanted to know where the kids was, what was their whereabouts, what were they doing - go do a welfare check, make sure they're OK," Mays said.
Mays said he made a series of calls from jail in February, and he also wrote DCS a letter.
"I remember coming up here specifically to the booking area and looking the number up and calling and leaving a messages and everything. No response back. It just blows my mind that DCS would do that," Mays said.
DCS issued a statement Friday verifying some of what Mays said, although there are some important differences.
A DCS news release said DCS received one letter and one voicemail from Mays.
The letter, DCS said, was postmarked in January and concerned "another child he fathered with a different mother that is currently in DCS custody."
DCS said it then received a voicemail from Mays on Feb. 18. Mays was concerned about the children being left with the mother's boyfriend, but DCS' letter said, "He did not leave the boyfriend's name or a way to contact the boyfriend."
DCS said it contacted the jail to follow up but never heard back.
DCS said the department did not have an open case on the child at the time of the fatality, however, the department, "has had multiple contacts in the past with the child's siblings." The last contact, DCS said, was in March 2011.
State Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, has been one of DCS' strongest critics.
"We are not removing children we need to. We're not protecting them," Jones said.
She is particularly critical of the Dickson County DCS office, which she said has mishandled too many cases.
"This is just one of those things where the department is not doing their job. It's just not," Jones said.
However, Jones is optimistic that DCS' new commissioner will follow up on his pledge to lift the veil of secrecy at the department.
"That's the best way to handle that department, because when you're keeping secrets, nobody trusts you," Jones said. "Let's find out what happened to this baby and what we could have done to protect her, and not let it happen again."
DCS said the five brothers and sisters of the deceased child are now either with relatives or in DCS custody.
Benesch is charged with reckless homicide and child abuse. He was jailed late Thursday afternoon in Dickson County on $75,000 bond.
The medical examiner's office will conduct an autopsy on the baby to determine how she died.
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