Jennifer Vaughn

A Rhea County woman is behind bars after investigators with the Rhea County Sheriff’s Department alleged she severely burned a 2-year-old girl’s feet as punishment.

Jennifer Vaughn, 53, was arrested Monday, Aug. 19, and is facing a felony charge of aggravated child abuse.

Rhea County Sheriff’s Department Investigator Rocky Potter said he was first notified about the possible abuse on Sunday, Aug. 11, when he received a call from medical staff at T.C. Thompson Children’s Hospital. Potter said that hospital officials told him that they were treating a young child who had scalding burns to both feet. He said that hospital staff described the burns as “non-accidental.”

Hospital officials, Potter said, speculated that the burns were caused by scalding hot water and will take six to eight weeks of skin graphs to heal.

Potter said that before the young girl was taken to a burn unit at Georgia’s Wellstar Cobb Hospital, he was able to photograph the injuries for his investigation.

“These were very, very disfiguring burns,” Potter said. “It’s among the worst injuries I’ve ever seen, even in training videos.”

Potter said that he talked to the girl’s mother and learned that at the time of the serious injuries, the child was under the care of Vaughn, the girl’s step-grandmother.

Potter talked to Vaughn at the Department of Children’s Services office and eventually obtained enough information to take out a warrant for Vaughn’s arrest.

Vaughn was charged with aggravated child abuse, which was upgraded to a felony under the state’s Haley’s Law. Signed in 2005, Potter said that Haley’s Law enhances the penalties for child abuse involving burns, disfigurement and other serious injuries. Under the law and if convicted, Vaughn could be sentenced to anywhere from 15 to 80 years in state prison.

Vaughn was booked into the Rhea County Jail, and according to jail records, her bond was set at $150,000. She was still incarcerated as of press time Tuesday.