December 8, 2006

Giving Providers A Bad Name

Day care provider charged in girl's death
By Anne Jungen - La Crosse Tribune

Authorities said the Onalaska, Wis. , home day care where a 15-month-old girl strangled in a playpen Friday evening was strewn with trash, liquor bottles and hazards for children, including a butcher knife within reach on a counter top and an open bleach container in the bathroom.The day care provider, 45-year-old Karen Peterson, was legally drunk that evening despite having seven children — one more than she was licensed for — still in her home."(Peterson) said she had a couple drinks, but it was Friday so she was trying to relax," according to the criminal complaint filed in La Crosse County Circuit Court.Peterson, of 718 Vilas St. in Onalaska, was charged Tuesday with felony child neglect causing death.Peterson told Onalaska police Sophia Mason was fussing, so she put her down for a nap between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. in a basement bedroom playpen, away from six other children in her care, according to the criminal complaint.When she checked between 6:30 and 6:45 p.m., Peterson said, she found the girl not breathing, with her head and arms outside the playpen and neck pressed against the side, according to the complaint.A plastic baby gate atop the pen was wedged against the child's upper shoulders and neck, according to the complaint. Peterson told police she did not know how the gate ended up on the playpen, and no adults or children had been downstairs since she took Mason there for her nap.Peterson said she carried the child upstairs, started CPR and called for help.Officers found a weeping Peterson and six other children, ages 2 to 7, standing around Mason's body. The girl had no pulse and was not breathing, according to the complaint.She was pronounced dead at Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center .Cause of death was "positional asphyxiation due to crib entrapment," according to La Crosse County Medical Examiner John Steers.Peterson had a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content at 7:32 p.m. Friday and admitted she had been drinking, according to the complaint, though "she immediately said that had nothing to do with the incident with the child."The level was preliminary, Onalaska Police Chief Randy Williams said at a news conference Tuesday, and results of a legal blood draw are expected within 30 days.The lower level of Peterson's home was "very messy, with stacks and piles of clothes on most of the furniture," officers reported in the complaint. Small flies flew out of a half-empty beer can, they reported, and several empty bottles, a half-drained bottle of vodka and a moldy glass were elsewhere downstairs.The bedroom where the girl had been had empty vodka bottles and glasses as well, according to the complaint.Police found an open bleach container, four razors, household cleaner and a pill of some type in the bathroom. Counters in the kitchen were covered with dirty dishes, food and a bottle of cleaner, according to the complaint, and garbage littered the floor. A butcher knife had been left hanging over a counter's edge, easily within a child's reach, the complaint stated.Family Resources Executive Director Jodi Widuch confirmed Peterson was a certified child care provider. Widuch declined to release specifics about Peterson's file, but said it had no indications her certificate had ever been revoked or suspended.Public defender Katherine Schnell said in court Peterson has been a day care provider for 10 years.Peterson was certified to provide care in her home for up to six children — three younger than 7 and three older than 7 — so she had one more child than permitted Friday.Widuch said homes are inspected initially and for re-certification every two years. In addition, at least one unannounced visit is made between re-certifications. She declined to say when Peterson's home last was inspected."We rely on information from the community to know we need to stop and do a check," Widuch said. "There are regulations in place, but parents have a role in this."Williams also encouraged parents to extensively research child care providers, including inspecting the home.Circuit Judge Roger LeGrand converted Peterson's $100,000 cash bond to a $100,000 signature bond Tuesday and she was released from the La Crosse County Jail. A preliminary hearing was set for 11 a.m. Dec. 13.
Here's the link to the complaint: click here