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Grandmother gets tot taken in car theft

Thursday, August 08, 2002

By Barbara White Stack, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Triston Michael Smathers, the 1-year-old abducted last month when a thief stole an unlocked, idling sport utility vehicle with him in it, left foster care yesterday and went back to his maternal grandmother, with whom he'd lived most of his life.

Triston was placed in foster care after police discovered two syringes, a crack pipe and two tiny bags of heroin in the stolen vehicle, which was abandoned in Pittsburgh with the baby safe inside several hours after it was taken from a Harmar parking lot.

The baby's mother, Lisa Hughes, 32, of Elizabeth, who had left him in the car, was charged with drug violations, child endangerment and other violations. At a juvenile court hearing July 10, three days after the baby was abducted, she tested positive for morphine, meaning she recently had used an opiate like heroin. Two days later she checked herself into a 28-day residential drug treatment program, on the advice of her lawyer, James Ecker.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Kim Clark, on the recommendation of the county Office of Children, Youth and Families, decided yesterday that Triston's grandmother, Sharon Hughes, 52, could care for him if the county agency provided an aide and if she tested negative for drug use. She'd pleaded to a marijuana possession charge 33 years ago.

Sharon Hughes tested negative, and the baby went back to her home in Elizabeth, where he had lived along with his mother before the abduction.

Triston's attorney, Pamela Spence Enck, objected to giving the grandmother the baby because, she said, Sharon Hughes should have been aware of her daughter's drug problem while Lisa Hughes lived in her home, and because the child had not been properly immunized and the grandmother had done nothing about that.

Clark said the aide the agency is to provide will help the grandmother properly care for the child. And she ordered Sharon Hughes and the baby's father, Michael Edward Smathers, an electrician from Armstrong County, to obtain counseling so that they can learn how to deal with addicts.

The agency reported to the judge that although Triston tested positive for opiates when he was born, hospital officials said it was because of medication given to Lisa Hughes, who also tested positive for opiates. But she also had cocaine and a drug similar to Valium in her system when the baby was born, so the agency recommended she be evaluated for drug abuse. However, the agency had no record of an evaluation.

Ecker told the judge that Lisa Hughes successfully completed the residential drug treatment program and is now attending treatment sessions. He said Hughes and Smathers are attempting a reconciliation, and both wanted Sharon Hughes to care for Triston while Lisa Hughes completes drug treatment.

Clark also ordered Hughes and Smathers to attend parenting classes. Smathers may visit the baby without supervision because he tested negative for drug use, but Hughes cannot be alone with her child.

Barbara White Stack can be reached at bwhitestack@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878.

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