Home day care owners charged in toddler death

Police: Wahls knew baby gate was broken

INDIANAPOLIS - The owners of a Fishers home day care are facing criminal charges following the June 20 death of a toddler in their care.

The Hamilton County prosecutor's office has charged Saundra Wahl and Daniel Wahl -- who operate Home Away from Home day care -- with involuntary manslaughter, Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney reported.

The 20-month-old child, identified in the probable cause affidavit as "A.D.", was found wedged between the wall and the vertical bar of a swinging metal baby gate, according to court documents.

The child was trapped at his neck, and he was unresponsive when emergency personnel arrived at the Hawkstone Drive home, officials said.

The toddler was pronounced dead at the hospital, according to the probable cause filed in September.

Although the coroner's office ruled the death accidental, prosecutors believe the Wahls provided reckless supervision as a child care provider.

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, Detective David Finn of the Fishers Police Department said in the affidavit.

"The rocking chair was marred by the motion of the gate against it, which demonstrates the substantial period of time that the chair was used in this manner," read the document. "Daniel and Saundra were aware that children -- and, in particular, A.D. -- were capable of pushing through the gate."

Police said to compound the risk, the latch-end of the gate could not be seen from the kitchen area, which meant that the required supervision could only be provided by an adult in the toddler-and-infant room.

Saundra Wahl told police she left the toddler-and-infant room for approximately three to five minutes to feed a girl in a highchair in the kitchen.

"Saundra stated that once in the room, she looked over and saw the victim face down, wedged at the neck, between the baby gate and the wall," read the probable cause. "Saundra advised that there was another child of similar age also on the wrong side of the gate."

The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration Bureau of Child Care visited the home June 24 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."

FSSA is taking action to revoke the license for Home Away from Home day care.

The Wahls are appealing the license revocation and are allowed to keep the facility open during the appeal process, according to FSSA spokeswoman Marni Lemons.

Lemons said a hearing has not yet been set.

Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney left a message for the Wahls but has not heard back.

Jim Crum, attorney for the Wahls in the criminal case, said he would need time before commenting.

"As soon as we determine an appropriate comment I will let you know," Crum wrote in an email to Kenney.

The Wahls are expected in court Jan. 30.

"In any case, a prosecutor files charges when the prosecutor believes that sufficient evidence exists to prove that a crime was committed," Deputy Prosecutor Andre Miksha wrote in an email to RTV6. "Of course, a criminal charge is merely an accusation, and each defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty. "

Miksha said if a child provider recklessly supervises a child and the child dies as a result of that reckless supervision, it is considered involuntary manslaughter, a Class D felony.

You can check the status of your day care provider's license here: http://www.in.gov/fssa/2552.htm

Home Away from Home, for example, is currently listed as "OPEN- ENFORCEMENT PENDING."
 

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