Murder charges

Enloe doctor comes to the defense of colleagues

The Yhip family.

The Yhip family.

photo courtesy of the Sacramento Valley Mirror

An Enloe Medical Center doctor has written a letter to the Butte County district attorney criticizing the July arrest of an Enloe cardiologist and his wife in connection with the death of their 2-year-old adopted son.

Dr. Doug Benson, an Enloe orthopedist, says that Benjamin Yhip’s death was most likely from an inherited health disorder rather than blunt force trauma as determined during an investigation by the Butte County Sheriff’s Office and DA investigators.

Benson’s letter to DA Mike Ramsey was revealed in a story by the Sacramento Valley Mirror on Aug. 4.

“You should be advised that Benjamin Yhip had a very RARE inherited metabolic disorder that is USUALLY FATAL in the first year of life,” the letter reads. “His failure to thrive, malnourishment, infections and Pseudofractures—which have now been claimed as evidence of abuse are all associated with this disorder.”

Ramsey said he doesn’t put much credence in Benson’s letter and said Benson and Dr. James Yhip, Benjamin’s father and an Enloe cardiologist, are friends.

On April 18 Edelyn Yhip, the child’s mother and an Enloe nurse, made a 911 call from the Yhips’ north Chico home to report her son was unresponsive, according to a Sheriff’s Office press release. A medical crew took the boy to Enloe, where he was stabilized and then transported via helicopter to Sutter Memorial Hospital in Sacramento. He was pronounced dead the following afternoon.

Three months later sheriff’s detectives arrested James Yhip on charges of murder and felony child endangerment. Edelyn Yhip was arrested on charges of abuse of a child causing death and child endangerment.

Ramsey said the investigation offers medical evidence negating Benson’s letter.

“It does absolutely nothing to explain the traumatic brain injury, contusions and bruising and hematoma,” he said. “The kid had a million dollars in medical tests [performed over time] and then died of some mysterious undiagnosed disease?”

At the time of the Yhips’ arrest, Dr. Paul Wasserman, a Chico pediatrician, told KNVN TV news Benjamin’s frequent medical encounters in his young life perhaps were a sign of abuse.

“There’s obviously trauma,” Wasserman said. “Fractures make you pretty suspicious. Then you check out the story, and certainly more than one fracture… The more injuries, clearly the more suspicious you are.”

Ramsey told KNVN that the signs of abuse could have been dismissed because both parents are in the medical profession. “Some of the bumps and bruises that might have raised a red flag, or some of the medical conditions that may have raised a red flag with professionals dealing with the children, didn’t at that time because of the status of the mother and father.”

Benson’s letter to Ramsey addresses that July 20 TV newscast.

“I saw your interview on last night’s news and read in this morning’s paper that you had, after some consideration, decided to charge Benjamin Yhip’s parents with child abuse and hold them responsible for his death,” he wrote. “The charges and opinion that was expressed by you is completely contradictory to the care we observed of the parents while the child was our [patient].”

Ramsey said the state Medical Board has called for the suspension of the Yhips’ medical licenses based on the county’s investigation.

James Yhip’s bail was set at $1,050,000 and his wife’s at $2,050,000 because she allegedly delivered the fatal injury. The couple covered the bail by putting up their and friends’ properties as collateral. They were due back in court Friday, Aug. 10. (Benson’s brother, Stephen, is the presiding judge of the Butte County Superior Court.)

The couple’s other children, Benjamin’s twin brother and his adopted sister, have been placed with Butte County Children’s Services since Benjamin’s death.