WRAL Investigates

Parents 'heartbroken' after no charges in baby's day care death

Posted April 29, 2013

— The parents of an infant who died after suffocating at a Fort Bragg day care in March 2012 said Monday they are "heartbroken and disappointed" that the U.S. Attorney's Office has decided not to file criminal charges against the day care worker who was supposed to be supervising their son.

Jason and Rachel Degenhard met with the U.S. Attorney's Office on Friday and released a statement Monday, saying the agency let their 4-month-old son's death "go unpunished."

"They have walked away from their duty to preserve justice for those who cannot speak for themselves," the couple wrote. "Rachel and I wonder if it was their child, would they come to the same cowardice conclusion that they have 'no case.' We were promised justice and help from the beginning of this all, only to be completely let down by a very heartless decision."

Remembering Santino ‘Sonny’ Degenhard Remembering Santino 'Sonny' Degenhard

Santino "Sonny" Degenhard suffocated during tummy time at Pope Child Development Center on March 9, 2012, while a child care worker got the room ready for the day by cleaning bottles and putting sheets on mattresses. He was taken off life support six days later.

The WRAL Investigates team reported on the Degenhards' story on Feb. 25, including their push for legal action.

"The first time I got any details was when I requested it from the state’s investigation, and I received it in September – six months later,” Jason Degenhard said.

A surveillance camera captured the scene as Sonny struggled to breathe while on his stomach, unable to roll over. The day’s events were documented in reports by Fort Bragg investigators and the North Carolina Division of Child Development and Early Education:

  • 5:30 a.m. – Rachel Degenhard drops Sonny off at the child care center and places him in a bouncy seat. The day care’s procedures state that a child should not be left in a bouncy seat for longer than 15 minutes. However, staff members leave Sonny in the seat for about 90 minutes.
  • 7:12 a.m. – Two staff members take Sonny and three other children to their assigned classroom.
  • 7:13 a.m. – Child care worker Vera Grant places Sonny on his stomach on a red vinyl mat. She is responsible for watching Sonny and three other children, ages 9 months, 13 months and 17 months.
  • 7:16 a.m. – Grant puts a blanket under Sonny as he remains on his stomach. She then cleans the classroom and performs non-caregiving activities, including going into the closet and bathroom, failing to provide appropriate supervision for the children in the classroom. Meanwhile, Sonny begins fussing and tries to lift his head a few times, but Grant does not respond to him.
  • 7:24 a.m. – Sonny kicks, the blanket bunches up near his mouth and he stops moving.
  • 7:26 a.m. – A cook comes in the room, points at Sonny and says he doesn’t look right, but no one checks on him.
  • 7:30 a.m. – Another staff member comes in the room and says Sonny looks funny, but no one checks on him.
  • 7:32 a.m. – Grant picks up Sonny, puts him in a crib and realizes he’s not breathing. She puts him on a changing table and begins CPR by giving him breaths, but no chest compressions. A school nurse and a medic, who was dropping off her child, rush into the room and perform CPR on Sonny. A staff member calls 911.

Emergency workers arrived about five minutes later and took Sonny to Womack Army Medical Center. He was transferred to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, where doctors determined he had suffered a brain injury consistent with oxygen deprivation.

The Degenhards then made the difficult decision to take their son off life support after they were told he did not have any brain activity. Sonny died at 12:20 a.m. on March 15, 2012, and his organs were donated.

Santino “Sonny” Degenhard Infant death prompts questions about child care worker training

Pope Child Development Center dismissed Grant, who said in interviews with investigators that she followed the same routine each day and that she was focused on getting everyone to the table to eat at the same time the morning that Sonny suffocated.

Public records requested by the WRAL Investigates team show that Grant was current in her training, including pediatric first aid and infant/toddler safe sleep and Sudden Infant Death risk reduction. She told Army investigators she had 36 years of experience in child care.

Grant and her attorney did not respond to WRAL Investigates’ requests for an interview in February.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services declined an interview but released a statement in February, saying it was monitoring the center’s training and preventive measures: “(The department) takes any allegation of misconduct in a licensed child care facility very seriously. As long as this center remains licensed by the State of North Carolina, DHHS will closely monitor to ensure compliance with all applicable state requirements.”

53 Comments

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  • jamieturner521 May 8, 12:26 p.m.

    This is so sad. There are a NUMBER of things that go on on Fort Bragg that just get swept under the rug because it is a military base. Prayers that this family can heal despite this tragedy.

  • connieleigh4 Apr 30, 3:48 p.m.

    @KBIRD...I agree with you completely. The life of a child/born or unborn has no value in our society these days. Vengeance is mine saith the Lord!

  • sweetlyght Apr 30, 10:56 a.m.

    I think the DA did the right thing. I don't think the action was crimanal, I think this case should be civil. They wouldn't charge a parent in the same senario, and it seemed like the daycare person was performing her daily duties. Seeing that they didn't have anyone else there to do the cleaning and set up, this was more likely the daycare's fault than the workers. When you have a job, you perform your duties as your boss wants.. or as you've been trained.

  • Gnathostomata Apr 29, 7:41 p.m.

    Iak Hsehpen, you are so right. When the wage is low so is the ability to make wise decisions. Children suffer because everyone "assumes" common sense is going to be used, but it takes a lot of energy to watch children. Regulations can limit the number of children assigned to one person, the number of hours a child can be with a caregiver, the size of the room, the cleanliness of the facility, but unless common sense is used, accidents will continue to happen.

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Apr 29, 7:24 p.m.

    Gnath - "Caregivers should check on babies every few minutes, not every few hours."

    NC laws state they have to be in the same room as the children at all times...i.e. visual supervision.

    Doesn't say they have to respond at all to a child in need.

    Isn't that ludicrous!!!

    Guess lawmakers are counting on common sense, which isn't quite so common anymore.

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Apr 29, 7:22 p.m.

    Lady Marksman - "Unfortunately the parent's are paying dearly for the center's decision to not hire someone additional so that proper supervision could be provided.

    Hopefully, the parent's will sue the daycare in a civil negligence case and the daycare will end up paying much more than the yearly salary for an additional person!!"

    AMEN!!!

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Apr 29, 7:20 p.m.

    affirmativediversity - "the parents probably had a fairly good idea what her routine was...OR THEY SHOULD HAVE."

    The caregiver didn't follow the center's written routine.

  • Lady Marksman Apr 29, 7:19 p.m.

    Lady Marksman - "If I have to come early to clean or prepare for the day then I come early. Likewise, if the room/toys etc need cleaning at the end of the day I stay late."

    Right! But this is a "center" and "centers" often won't pay extra for someone to do that.

    Unfortunately the parent's are paying dearly for the center's decision to not hire someone additional so that proper supervision could be provided.

    Hopefully, the parent's will sue the daycare in a civil negligence case and the daycare will end up paying much more than the yearly salary for an additional person!!

    Iak Hsehpen

  • Gnathostomata Apr 29, 7:18 p.m.

    This is such a sad event. Caregivers should check on babies every few minutes, not every few hours. Nothing should get in the way of this. I feel so, so sorry for the parents who lost a beautiful baby boy to negligence. I pray that they can get through this death, but it will be compounded by lack of justice. There should be a way to appeal this decision, but knowing nothing will return their son to them makes me think they should concentrate on healing rather than revenge.

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Apr 29, 7:17 p.m.

    welfarequeen - "y'all here on this board are consistently blood-thirsty, lock-em-up-make-them-suffer crowd imaginable! North Carolina is the 10th most religious state in the USA but from the looks of it, certainly not the most forgiving or christ-like."

    Awww, quit your preaching!!!

    "Accidents DO happen you know."

    The video shows this was NOT an accident. Several other adults entered the room and told the caregiver the child didn't look right. The child cried and fussed before dying, and still the caregiver didn't check on him.

    "If the DA isn't going to bring charges, what's your beef?"

    DAs can be wrong: Remember Nifong???

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