Heat caused child's death

March 13, 2009 - 7:15 PM
By Roselee Papandrea / Times-News

The 1-year-old boy found not breathing at a Haw River day care Monday died from hyperthermia "related to heat and sun exposure," according to an Alamance County Department of Social Services report.

According to a source with knowledge of the investigation, the child was left in a car. On Monday, the day the child died, the high temperature was 81 degrees in Alamance County.

Judy Harper, 59, the owner of the Palmer Leigh Small World day care, was in charge of the baby at the time of the incident. Listen to 911 call.

She was charged Thursday with involuntary manslaughter for allegedly creating a "substantial risk of injury, hyperthermia, that resulted in the child's death," according to a press release from District Attorney Rob Johnson.

Harper turned herself in at the Alamance County jail at around 3:30 p.m. Thursday. A magistrate placed her under $500,000 bond, but she was released from jail at 7:15 p.m. Thursday after her bond was reduced to $10,000 by Superior Court Judge J.B. Allen.

Johnson said Friday that he wanted Harper's bond reduced before she had her first appearance Friday.

"When she was taken into custody, the bond was set at a clearly excessive amount," Johnson said. "I wanted to make sure it was rectified at an early stage."

Harper cooperated with investigators, and she is not considered a flight risk, Johnson said.

"Her bond was more than what people who are charged with intentional first-degree murder have set for them," Johnson said.

HARPER CALLED 911 at about 2:51 p.m. Monday. She told the dispatcher at Alamance County Central Communications that she had a 1-year-old baby that "just passed away," according to the 911 call.

She told the dispatcher that she was babysitting the child and that he had a fever over the weekend. She thought the baby was sleeping. She said she already tried to perform CPR on the child.

"I went to wake him up at 2:30," Harper said. "I thought he'd been asleep. He had a fever over the weekend."

The dispatcher asked if the baby was still warm. She indicated he was "real warm." The dispatcher told her that CPR needed to be performed on him.

"Well, I tried, but I can't," she said.

"Ma'am, I'm going to help you," the dispatcher said.

"Well, OK."

The dispatcher asked her if she had been watching the baby. She said she's watched him since he was a newborn.

"When was the last time you checked on him?" the dispatcher asked.

"I'm in the same room with him. I'm always in the same room with him," she said.

Haw River firefighters and police officers responded to the day care center at 501 E. Main St. minutes later. When they arrived, they found that the child wasn't breathing and didn't have a pulse, according to a search warrant obtained by Haw River Police Department at 5:35 p.m. Monday.

Firefighter Keith Beaver moved the baby to a table to start CPR.

"Keith Beaver stated he observed what appeared to be burns and the skin was peeled up on the child's legs," the warrant states.

Beaver removed the child's jumpsuit and there were burns and bruises on the left side of the baby's abdomen. The baby's body "felt very hot," the warrant states.

The baby was taken to Alamance Regional Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.

When authorities interviewed the baby's mother, she told them the baby was sick over the weekend but he was fine when she dropped him off at day care Monday morning, according to the warrant.

"Judy Harper states to Lt. Tim Smith that the child went home sick Thursday with a fever," the warrant states. "Judy Harper stated the child was not there Friday and when the child came back (Monday), he seemed to have a lot of congestion."

The warrant gave police permission to search the day care center as well as a 1992 Ford Taurus station wagon. When authorities requested the warrant, the items they expected to seize included blood and body fluids, possible weapons, a diaper bag as well as heating appliances and curling irons.

The items that were actually seized from the day care center included tissues, bath towels, a small pillow and gauze, which all had blood on them. Emergency numbers in a frame and a clear gallon jug with a bleach and water mixture as well as a "skin sluffer," a knife and a brush, which were all found on a kitchen counter top.

From the station wagon, authorities seized a piece of the front passenger seat with a blood stain on it, a blue denim purse with blood on it and a green rag with blood in it, which were taken from the front passenger seat.

ACCORDING TO a DSS Child Protective Services history report, DSS received five allegations of wrongdoing at Palmer Leigh Small World day care since 1997. The cases were accepted for investigation on three occasions with the most recent incident occurring Monday after the child "stopped breathing and was bleeding from his mouth and nose."

"Preliminary indications are that the child died of hyperthermia related to heat and sun exposure," the report states.

In February 1997, CPS investigated after a mother of one of the children at the day care complained that her child was spanked with a ruler on the hand. The mother also said that she came to the day care in the middle of the day and couldn't get anyone to the door.

"Her daughter let her in and after five to 10 minutes an adult came from the back room saying she had been rocking a baby. The day care provider got upset when she learned the mother stopped by unannounced," the report states.

Investigators found that the disciplinary tool was a piece of decorated Styrofoam which caused no bruising or injuries.

"State Division of Child Development discovered lack of compliance to staff-child ratios and immediately required compliance by discharging two students," the report states.

In June 2002, CPS investigated after "a child fell at day care and his mouth was severely bleeding and tongue was split." Other accusations were that the day care provider used Texas Pete hot sauce on children's thumbs to keep them from sucking on them, and they were force-fed fish sticks.

"The children are only given small amounts of water and are made to nap during various times of the day. A child needs asthma medication and director said she gave the medication but the parent later learned that it was not given," the report states.

According to that investigation, "The director observed the child fall and provided care for the child. The director acknowledged that she used hot sauce but the parents were aware and no one had objected. The director states that she gives the children as much fluid as they request and takes pitchers of water on the playground when outside. It was determined that at times the parents had not sent the nebulizer and/or medication. When the director had the medication, she used the nebulizer she had access to administer medication."

The day care center also has a history of safety violations, according to documents from the state Department of Health and Human Services.

A state official cited the facility for health and safety violations after inspections on Feb. 2 and Feb. 27. State child care consultant Boon Trott concluded that a "safe indoor environment was not provided for the children."

At the time of the Feb. 2 visit, Harper was running the day care alone. She was caring for one child, who was a 3-year-old, during that visit. Trott observed a gap of up to 4 inches between the building wall and a fence post, which was listed as an "entrapment hazard."

Trott also reminded Harper that she "must be able to see and hear the children and interact with them ... at all times" while they are awake.

Robert Boyer contributed to this report.

Source:  http://www.thetimesnews.com/news/source_23392___article.html/child_heat.html