Girl succumbs to cancer after visit from inmate dad

March 28, 2008 10:37:09 AM PDT
A 10-year-old girl died of brain cancer early this morning, shortly after receiving what her family said was her dying wish -- a visit from her incarcerated father. "She was holding on to see her father," Ed Yaeger said of his niece Jayci Yaeger.

Jayci's father, Jason Charles Yaeger, is serving the final year of a five-year sentence for a drug conviction in a minimum security prison camp in South Dakota, a 3½-hour drive from his daughter who was in a Lincoln, Neb., hospital.

Officials, however, had denied Jason Charles Yaeger's repeated requests for a furlough so he could spend more time with his daughter, who suffered from terminal brain cancer.

Prison officials agreed to a one-time visit. Under the supervision of prison officials, Jason Charles Yaeger visited Jayci Wednesday in the hospital for about 20 minutes -- just days before she died.

"It's just unfortunate that the visit was cut so short," Ed Yaeger told ABC News.

The Yaegers are upset with prison officials because Jason Charles Yaeger was not able to be with his daughter when she died.

"He was denied the proper good-bye," Lori Yaeger, Jayci's aunt, wrote in an e-mail Thursday.

Jason Charles Yaeger had pleaded repeatedly with prison officials to honor the bureau's apparent policy of allowing furloughs and transfers under "extraordinary" circumstances, but was rebuffed time and again, he told ABC News in a telephone interview from prison last week.

In a letter to Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska ? dated Feb. 20 and obtained by ABC News ? a regional director from the Department of Justice wrote that "although Mr. Yaeger believes his daughter's severe medical condition constitutes 'extraordinary justification,' a review of his case reveals this specific request was ? reviewed ? and denied ? because his circumstances were not deemed to rise to the level of extraordinary."

The congressman had requested information about the denials of the furlough or transfer.

Last week, after published a story on Jayci, the Bureau of Prisons released a statement saying that officials there "have reviewed inmate Yaeger's request for a compassionate release and have determined his situation does not meet the criteria."

Jayci, named for her father's initials, had been fighting for her life since she was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 3, seven years ago. But in the last six months, she had taken a severe turn downward.

Doctors declared her condition terminal in October. Last month, they found they couldn't transfer her to a children's hospital closer to her Lincoln, Neb., home because they said she wouldn't survive the trip, Lori Yaeger said.

Jason Charles Yaeger had been allowed three brief supervised visits since the terminal diagnosis in the fall and the visits had prompted remarkable, if short-lived revivals in Jayci's condition, she added.

The fourth visit was earlier this week.

When he came home in February, Jayci was not expected to live through the night," Lori Yaeger said. "She improved throughout that whole week. Jason was allowed to accompany her to get a [CT] scan. He was able to pick her up and put her on the [examining] table,'' she said, growing emotional.

"And this little girl who could barely lift an arm wrapped her arms around him and held on."

ABC News Omaha, Nebraska affiliate KETV and reporter Andrew Ozaki contributed to this report.