Mother Charged After 5-Year-Old Burned During Lice Treatment

Medical journals dating back as far as 1917 have touted the use of gasoline or kerosene as an effective method for getting rid of lice. However, this home remedy is now known to be exceedingly dangerous, as gasoline fumes can be ignited by even the smallest spark.

Despite safe and effective over-the-counter lice treatments, some people continue to rely on the traditional "wisdom" that gasoline kills lice. Unfortunately, this method can lead to tragic results. Last week, an Oklahoma woman was charged with child abuse in Pittsburg County District Court after a January 29 incident that critically burned her daughter. Shana M. Suggs, 25, Haileyville, is accused of saturating her 5-year-old daughter's head with gasoline in order to destroy lice.

According to an affidavit, a space heater ignited the fumes, burning both Suggs and her daughter. Suggs's boyfriend, Dylan Webster, heard the screams and ran to the bathroom, throwing his jacket over the girl to extinguish the flames.

The girl suffered second and third degree burns to more than 60 percent of her body. The girl's siblings were placed in the custody of relatives, where the girl has also been released after treatment at burn centers in Tulsa and Shriners Hospital for Children.

Dousing a child's hair with gasoline seems to be an obviously dangerous act, but if the intent was to kill lice rather than harm or punish a child, is it criminal?

According to 10A O.S. § 1-1-105 of the Oklahoma Children's Code, "abuse" is defined as "harm or threatened harm or failure to protect from harm or threatened harm to the health, safety, or welfare of a child by a person responsible for the child’s health, safety, or welfare, including but not limited to nonaccidental physical or mental injury, sexual abuse, or sexual exploitation."

In Suggs's case, abuse charges may have been filed not as a result of willful and malicious harm, but as a result of her failure to protect her child by putting her in danger in using gasoline on her hair. On the other hand, 21 O.S. § 843.5 of the Oklahoma Criminal Code, which outlines the penalties for child abuse, reads as follows: "Any parent or other person who shall willfully or maliciously engage in child abuse shall, upon conviction, be guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment in the custody of the Department of Corrections not exceeding life imprisonment, or by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one (1) year, or by a fine of not less than Five Hundred Dollars ($500.00) nor more than Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00), or both such fine and imprisonment."

Though prosecutors have filed criminal charges, it seems likely that Suggs's defense strategy will include a lack of intent to harm. After all, Suggs herself was treated for burn injuries following the incident. Was Suggs was abusive and criminally negligent or simply uneducated and misinformed? That decision will be left to the court.