School assault case

Timothy Dunham, who stands head and shoulders over the rest of the senior members of the Mercer Mustangs football team in this pre-season photo, has been charged as an adult for allegedly hurting a girl in school.

The assault case against the Mercer High School teen accused of injuring a girl during class is moving forward to the Mercer County Court of Common Pleas.

Charges against Timothy Christopher Dunham, 17, of Coolspring Township, were held to court Wednesday at his preliminary hearing with District Judge D. Neil McEwen. He is free on bond and is being charged as an adult.

He was charged Dec. 9 by Mercer police with aggravated assault, which is a second-degree felony, simple assault and two counts each of harassment and disorderly conduct in connection with two incidents involving Maddison Gabany, 17, who ended up in the hospital.

Testimony was given Wednesday by Maddison's mother, Denise Gabany, and Robert L. Davis, a patrolman with the Mercer police department who was on duty at the high school during the alleged incidents.

They were questioned by Mercer County Assistant District Attorney David Wenger and Timothy's attorney, Michael T. Muha, of Hermitage.

On Oct. 26, Timothy picked up Maddison's desk while she was sitting in it and "slammed it down," and threatened to hit her with her binder, Gabany said.

"Maddison came home and told me about it," Gabany said, adding her daughter was nervous and scared and had "fear of being hurt."

The second incident happened during support class on Nov. 10, when Maddison said Timothy "hit her on the back of the neck with a board."

Maddison was too afraid to say anything in school and was upset when she got home, "crying and falling apart," Gabany said. She didn't know why Timothy hit her.

Around 3 a.m. Nov. 11, Maddison started vomiting, a typical sign of a shunt malfunction. Maddison was born with hyrdrocephalus, meaning "water on the brain," Gabany said.

She's had a shunt since she was one day old and it's connected to a tube that helps drain fluid. The shunt is located in the back of her head and the tubing goes down the side of her neck to her stomach. The board hit the shunt, Gabany said.

Maddison was admitted to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and had an MRI of her ventricles done as well as X-rays and an abdomen ultrasound.

"The ventricles were enlarged so it was a shunt malfunction," Gabany said.

The excess fluid was not being drained and the shunt had to be replaced, which requires a surgical procedure with an incision made in the back of Maddison's head. She already has a hole drilled in her skull, and the surgery was performed Nov. 12.

"She would have died from increased spinal pressure" without the surgery, Gabany said.

Maddison returned home Nov. 14 and went back to school two weeks later. She's had 14 previous shunt surgeries, and this was the first time the school made her wait longer than one week to return, telling Gabany they'd be "more comfortable" if she waited two weeks.

Maddison had a follow-up appointment with her pediatrician, who diagnosed her with a concussion, noting it was not a result of her hitting her head.

Muha asked Gabany if she was aware of any disciplinary actions school officials took against Timothy. She said she didn't believe it was her business.

He also asked her about Maddison's previous surgeries. She's had eight shunt replacements over the past 1½ years, and the first six were done while she was an infant.

"This time her ventricle collapsed, which has never happened before," Gabany said.

The recent eight surgeries were due to disconnected shunts and clogged valves. Gabany said she believes people at the high school know about Maddison's condition; the tubing raises the skin in some areas.

Davis recounted Maddison's report of the desk slam and said she told him about being afraid to come to school.

He was dispatched by radio Nov. 13 about the board incident. Davis learned Dunham shouldn't have had the wooden board with him in support class; he brought the 5-by-7-inch board with him from art class.

Davis showed an identical board that's been logged as evidence. Maddison told Davis that Timothy hit her on the right side of her neck and head area.

"He was sitting five seats back, walked up and hit her," Davis said of Maddison's report.

Another student confirmed the incident and Davis noted the teacher had told Timothy five times to sit down earlier in the class.

After the half-hour hearing, Muha spoke on behalf of Timothy, saying he believes his client is innocent of the charges. It was a "simple school mishap" and he believes that will be proven as the case moves forward.

Mercer Area School District Superintendent Dr. William D. Gathers previously declined comment on the case and wouldn't disclose whether Timothy has been disciplined by school officials.

Published Jan. 10, 2015, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.