INDIANAPOLIS - An administrative law judge has ruled Fishers home day care Home Away From Home should lose its license following the death of a toddler in its care, Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney learned.
Anthony DiRienzo, 20 months, 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, according to the probable cause affidavit.
The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration Bureau of Child Care visited the home of Saundra and Daniel Wahl on 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 has been taking action to revoke the license for Home Away from Home day care, and a decision from Administrative Law Judge Shanida Sharp-Byrnes sustained the revocation of the Wahls’ license.
“The Wahls failed to operate its facility in compliance with Indiana’s child care home rules,” read the decision released last month, following a Feb. 7 hearing.
The Wahls have requested an agency review and can stay open during the appeal process, according to FSSA spokeswoman Marni Lemons.
Jim Crum, attorney for the Wahls, declined to comment on the judge’s decision sustaining the license revocation, but he said the couple is appealing.
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.
“We are very disappointed by the judge's ruling, and I think it is unwarranted in the context of what we know; it seems like they are trying to set a precedent in light of all that has taken place with other day cares in our area,” said Sarah Ewing, whose son still attends Home Away from Home. “We are still planning on testifying during their trial set in May.”
The Hamilton County prosecutor's office has charged Saundra Wahl and Daniel Wahl with involuntary manslaughter, and a trial is scheduled for May 13.
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."
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."