FISHERS, Ind. - The owners of a Hamilton County day care were found guilty of involuntary manslaughter late Wednesday evening after a toddler died in their care.
Saundra and Daniel Wahl run 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. The two defendants held hands while the judge delivered the verdict.
The Wahls face a maximum of three years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The pair was scheduled to be sentenced June 12.
Sandy Wahl delivered emotional testimony Wednesday as she testified in her own defense, Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney reported.
Wahl cried on the stand and said she had left Anthony for just a few minutes when he became trapped in the gate.
Saundra Wahl also said the gate was working properly.
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.
"I was just trying to help the police," said Saundra Wahl on the stand when prosecutors asked why she told police at the scene the chair and swing were there to keep kids from pushing the gate open. "I didn’t care if we were cited. A baby died that day."
The courtroom was full of people in support of the Wahls and the DiRienzos.
"They’re good Christian people who would never hurt anyone," said Kim Catellier, whose child used to attend the Wahls’ Home Away From Home day care. "They have a heart of gold and I’m here to support them. It was truly an accident."
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," said Andre Miksha, Hamilton County chief deputy prosecutor.
Prosecutors wrapped up their case Wednesday morning after calling Anthony DiRienzo’s father, Dan, as well as emergency personnel and police to the stand.
"It was the biggest mistake of our lives trusting them to the care of our children,” said Dan DiRienzo, who lost his son Anthony. "I assumed, wrongly, that he was being supervised."
DiRienzo said he and his wife did research on Home Away From Home prior to choosing the day care,
but found only a few minor violations.
DiRienzo teared up on the witness stand as he viewed photos of his son.
"He was happy and healthy," said DiRienzo.
Also Wednesday, prosecutors showed a video of Saundra Wahl the day of Anthony’s death, reenacting what happened with the gate and a doll.
“(Saundra) said the children could push through the gate,” said Detective David Finn of the Fishers Police Department while on the stand.
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.
FSSA spokeswoman Marni Lemons told Kenney the Wahls still have a week left to seek judicial review of FSSA’s decision.
Under state law, the Wahls could still 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."
The Call 6 Investigators have spoken with parents who are still sending their children to Home Away from Home and are supportive of Saundra and Daniel Wahl.
The Wahls’ defense attorney, Jim Crum, has declined to provide a statement regarding the case.
You can check the status of your day care provider's license here.
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