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August 4, 1998

Presumed Parents in Baby Mixup Died in Crash


WASHINGTON -- The recent discovery that two babies were switched at a hospital maternity ward three years ago took a grim and even more complicated turn Monday with the disclosure that the presumed parents of one baby died on July 4 in a car wreck.

The University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, where the girls were born on June 29 and June 30, 1995, declined to identify Kevin Chittum and Tamara Whitney Rogers as the parents of one of the switched girls. But USA Today reported in Monday's editions that Chittum, 25, and Ms. Rogers, 19, had died in the accident that claimed seven lives before anyone knew that their daughter might be involved in the switch.

Mary Watts of Buena Vista, Va., Chittum's aunt, said Monday that hospital authorities had informed the surviving family members that 3-year-old Rebecca was another woman's child and that another woman was raising theirs.

Paula Johnson of Ruckersville approached the hospital two weeks ago with DNA evidence that proved 3-year-old Callie Marie was not her child. Ms. Johnson had sought the tests to establish the paternity of Callie's presumed father and to induce him to make child support payments.

Marguerite Beck, spokeswoman for the hospital, said that the hospital suspects the switch was not an accident and has called in Virginia State Police to aid in its investigation. She said the hospital has not yet named "Family B" -- which Ms. Watt says is her family -- as Callie's biological parents, but that it had dispatched a physician and a nurse to visit it.

The families of Chittum and Ms. Rogers are pleading for seclusion while they work through their grief over the July 4 crash and arrange custody of the other 3-year-old, Rebecca, and the 1-year-old daughter of Chittum and Ms. Rogers, who were engaged.

The two mothers presumably involved had known each other.

"I remember Whitney from the hospital as a warm and enthusiastic person," Ms. Johnson said in a statement Monday through her attorney, Cynthia A. Johnson, who is not related. "For the last few days, my life has been an absolute nightmare with reporters stalking me, Callie, and members of my family.

"I am looking forward to the chance to meet with the other families and my biological daughter in private," she said of Rebecca.

The crash that killed the parents raising Rebecca was the worst in the nation this year on the fourth of July, claiming seven lives in all. Chittum, a carpenter and a contractor, had set off early that afternoon for a county fair with five passengers -- Ms. Rogers, his 13-year-old sister, his 11-year-old niece from Charlottesville, and two brothers, 10 and 13, from Lexington who had known his niece.

The accident occurred in "a very bad place" near Roanoke, on Interstate 81, said the Botetourt County Sheriff, Reed Kelly. It was pouring rain, he said, and the car drove over a hump in the road that caused it to hydroplane and cross the median, where it hit a tractor trailer. Everyone in Chittum's car and the driver of the truck, Jerry Douglas Gregory, 59, were killed.

The families that now care for Rebecca and her sister are big and entrenched; the phone book for Buena Vista, population 6,500, lists 10 Chittums and nine Rogerses. After the accident, they faced one custody question that was troubling enough. Now, Mrs. Watts said, they have another.

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