Day care couple sentenced to 2 years prison after toddler death

INDIANAPOLIS - After an emotional afternoon in court, the owners of a Hamilton County day care were sentenced to two years in prison and one year probation after a toddler died in their care, Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney reported.

Saundra and Daniel Wahl ran Home Away From Home day care, where Anthony DiRienzo, 20 months, was found wedged between the wall and the vertical bar of a swinging metal baby gate, according to court documents.

DiRienzo died June 20, 2013.

Both Sandy and Daniel Wahl were found guilty of involuntary manslaughter last month, and Monday were taken away in handcuffs after the judge handed down her sentence.

They cannot care for any minor children other than their son while on probation.

Jocelyn and Daniel, parents of Anthony, delivered emotional statements to the court in which they spoke directly to the Wahls, their supporters and the judge asking for the maximum sentence of three years in prison.

"What were you doing when Anthony struggled to take his last breath?" Jocelyn DiRienzo asked Saundra Wahl.  "I will never understand how you take a child to day care and never pick them up."

According to prosecutors, the latch on the baby gate was broken, and the Wahls were aware that the latch was broken and tried to mitigate the risk by placing a rocking chair and swing against the gate.

The jury and judge found the Wahls were reckless in their supervision of the toddler.

"We trusted you with our baby’s life and you killed him," said Daniel DiRienzo to the Wahls. "You are not Christians."

The courtroom was full of people in support of the Wahls and the DiRienzos and many sent letters to the judge ahead of time.

"It was an accident and should have been ruled an accident," said Sarah Ewing, a parent and supporter of the Wahls. "They don’t belong in prison."

Prosecutors said it was not merely an accident, but rather the Wahls showed reckless supervision of the children and had too many children present in the home.

"The evidence, we believe, shows it was not merely an accident and rises to the level of criminal culpability," Hamilton County chief deputy prosecutor Andre Miksha said last month.

"It disgusts me when I hear people dismiss this as an accident," said Daniel DiRienzo in his statement to the court.

Prosecutors felt the sentence was fair.

"The State believes that the sentences rendered by the Court today appropriately reflect the seriousness of the crimes committed by Mr. and Mrs. Wahl," Miksha said in a statement issued late Monday.

According to documents just obtained by Kenney, the Family and Social Services Administration has officially revoked the license for Home Away from Home as of April 24 and the day care no longer appears on Carefinder, the state’s database of licensed providers.

Under state law, a day care can operate with five or fewer unrelated children as an unlicensed provider.

The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration Bureau of Child Care visited the home of Saundra and Daniel Wahl on June 24, several days after DiRienzo died, and cited the day care for lack of supervision the day the child died.

FSSA inspectors also found Home Away From Home was not meeting proper child-to-staff ratio requirements, and the state issued a probationary license on July 1.

Inspectors returned July 16 and found the same violations, including two infants in "pack and plays behind a closed door."

"They were not meeting the supervision requirement of leaving the doors open," read the FSSA document. "On this day there were 4 children under 16 months of age and 1 over 24 mos inside with Mrs. Wahl while the other 7 children were outside with Mr. Wahl. This would have required 2 staff inside the home with the 5 children."

You can check the status of your day care provider's license here.

Follow Kara Kenney on Twitter: @karakenney6  | Facebook: KaraKenneyNews

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