Johnstown Mother Charged in Connection with 5-Year-Old Child’s Fentanyl-Involved Death

July 25, 2023 | Topic: Criminal

HARRISBURG—Attorney General Michelle Henry announced that a Cambria County woman has been arrested on charges relating to the overdose death of her five-year-old daughter late last year.

Volaura Askew, 27, is charged with involuntary manslaughter, two counts of endangering the welfare of children, two counts of recklessly endangering another person, possession of a controlled substance, and tampering with evidence.

Investigators determined Askew allegedly exposed her 5-year-old daughter to fentanyl/heroin in the hours and days before the child was found dead in her Johnstown home on October 27, 2022.

An autopsy determined the girl died of a fentanyl overdose.

Askew turned herself into authorities Tuesday afternoon. She was to be arraigned later in the day.

“This case involves a disturbing set of facts and the devastating loss of a 5-year-old child’s life, caused by the choices and actions of her own mother,” Attorney General Henry said. “I cannot emphasize enough the danger and deadly threat fentanyl poses to Pennsylvanians. No one — especially young children — is immune from its devastating consequences.”

Albert Spicer and Elyse Young, of Johnstown, are also charged with drug-dealing offenses in this case. Investigators determined Spicer was a supplier of illegal drugs, and Askew was staying at Young’s home — which Spicer was allegedly using as a stash house following his release from prison.

Askew and Young had both used fentanyl and heroin there, when the 5-year-old girl and her 6-year-old sister were also present in the home, including the night before the 5-year-old’s death.

Young took Askew and her children back to Askew’s home, and on October 27, 2022, the 5-year-old girl was found deceased in her bedroom by her older sister.

The charges are the result of presentments approved by the 49th Statewide Investigative Grand Jury.

The Office of Attorney General was assisted in its investigation by the Johnstown Police Department, along with the Cambria County District Attorney’s Office and the Cambria County Coroner’s Office.

Cambria County Coroner Jeffrey Lees determined the cause of death was acute fentanyl toxicity and ruled the manner of death as homicide.

“This was a heart-wrenching case for our office. Anytime you are dealing with the death of a child, the emotional levels go up. There is no reason for this 5-year-old girl to be deceased,” Coroner Lees said. “We pronounced this death on October 27, 2022, and what followed was a very extensive and comprehensive investigation by my office, law enforcement, the District Attorney’s office, and the Attorney General’s office. That work takes time, and I commend all the professionals involved with getting to the bottom of what happened to this child.”

Cambria County District Attorney Gregory Neugebauer said: “This case demonstrates that law enforcement and prosecutors at all levels take the health and protection of our youth very seriously. Children should never be exposed to illegal drugs, and when caregivers fail to insulate those in their care from dangerous substances, law enforcement will take all necessary and proper steps to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for the harm suffered.”

Johnstown Police Department Chief Richard Pritchard said: “I want to commend the officers involved for their diligence in conducting a thorough investigation, and thank you to everyone who supported us. Special thanks to the Attorney General and her team.”

Askew is charged with two counts each of reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of a child for exposing both children to heroin/fentanyl.

The case will be prosecuted by Deputy Attorney General David Gorman. All charges are accusations. The defendants are innocent unless and until proven guilty.

# # #