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Tasia Perkins

Tasia Perkins

VALPARAISO — Tasia Perkins pleaded not guilty of felony neglect of a dependent Thursday following the drowning death of her 3-year-old daughter.

If convicted, she faces 20 to 40 years in prison, Porter Circuit Judge Mary Harper told her during a brief hearing Thursday.

The advisory sentence for that charge is 30 years in prison, Harper said.

Perkins' daughter, Tamira Billingslea, drowned Monday night. Searchers found her unresponsive in a pond near her home at the Williamsburg on the Lake apartment complex on Valparaiso's north side.

An autopsy showed the young girl died of drowning, Porter County Coroner Chuck Harris said Wednesday.

Perkins testified Thursday she had hired an attorney, but Harper said the court hadn't been notified. The attorney didn't attend the hearing, either in the courtroom with Harper or at Porter County Jail, where Perkins appeared via video conference.

Harper said she was required to enter a preliminary plea of not guilty for Perkins.

Perkins is scheduled to appear in court again Aug. 14.

Valparaiso Police Department Detective Melanie Sheets said in a court affidavit that Perkins searched for more than an hour before she notified police.

According to charging information, Perkins told police she took her daughter to a nearby gas station so Perkins could buy a cigar, using the full service lane to avoid leaving the car. However, the clerk who brought the cigar to the car told police she didn't see the girl in the car.

Perkins told police she drove back home, got her daughter out of the back seat, manually locked the vehicle's doors, and the girl was gone when Perkins turned around, court records show.

She left the gas station at 8 p.m., according to surveillance footage. Valparaiso police received the report of a missing child at 9:26 p.m.

Neighbors told police she appeared to be looking for something, so they joined the search after asking what she was looking for, the affidavit said.

Valparaiso police Sgt. Michael Grennes said Wednesday police are continuing to investigate the case.

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Porter County Government Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.