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QUESTIONS LINGER IN TODDLER'S FATAL FALL WINDOW, SUPERVISION AT ISSUE IN 2ND PLUNGE AT ILL-FATED APARTMENT

Sharquita Owens was 2 when she fell from Apartment F in the Alfred D. Pryce housing complex at 420 Jefferson Ave.

Her mother, Sharmaine Billingsley, said her daughter has not been the same since the November 1987 accident.

On May 11, 20-month-old Veronica Jennings fell three floors from the apartment. The toddler died two days later. Her death has been ruled accidental by the Erie County medical examiner.

Sharquita, who will be 8 in June, suffered a broken arm, a fractured bone in her skull and bruises in her fall.

Sharquita was hospitalized for three days after the accident and remained in bed for two weeks, according to relatives.

Police said that Sharquita was on a bed when she fell against the open window, breaking the screen and falling into a stairwell below.

"She still complains about her leg," said Ms. Billingsley, 25, who said Sharquita was not alone in the apartment at the time of the accident.

Police said Veronica was left unattended when she tumbled out a window and fell three floors to the complex's interior courtyard.

A witness to Veronica's fall told police the bedroom window and its screen were both open immediately after the accident and that a small child was seen in the window.

"She said she heard the baby hit the ground," said Capt. Charles T. Fieramusca, chief of the Homicide Bureau.

"She looked up and saw the window open, the screen open and a small male child in the window," Fieramusca said.

Police declined to identify the woman, a neighbor in the housing complex.

A baby sitter -- Sherri Thurmond, 25, of 420 Jefferson -- told police she left her two children, ages 3 and 4, in the apartment with Veronica while she escorted two other charges to a bus stop nearby.

Police believe it was the 4-year-old boy whom the witness saw at the window after the accident. Ms. Thurmond, who said she left the children unattended for five minutes, firmly maintained the bedroom window and its screen were shut.

Homicide police have turned the case over to the district attorney's office.

The windows at 420 Jefferson -- which were installed in 1987 -- are equipped with safety locks designed to prevent the window from being raised more than 6 inches, "unless the lock is bypassed," said Susan Grzechowiak, director of management at the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority.

Ms. Grzechowiak said the locks were installed before Sharquita's accident.

When asked if the recent accident will spur a review of the windows in that unit, Ms. Grzechowiak said they would be a "primary consideration" in ongoing efforts by the Housing Authority to modernize the units.

"If anything is done with the windows, it would have to be unit-wide -- what we could do to prevent further accidents or improve the situation," she said.

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