WRAL Investigates

Years after baby's death, Fort Bragg day care centers still cited for safety concerns

Posted May 18, 2015
Updated May 19, 2015

— After the death of Santino Degenhard at a Fort Bragg day care center, records show the facility failed a state safety inspection two years in a row.

"Because of Sonny's death, I really hoped it would have changed enforcement of the rules, the standards. Instead it hasn't," said his mother, Rachel Degenhard.

"They had a child die in that room, and they still don't have it right. That is very, very concerning to us."

The center, now called Eagle Child Development Center, failed training standards for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), but the problem is not contained to that location. Inspections at the nine day care centers on Fort Bragg showed seven citations for SIDS-related violations. In comparison, the same number of violations were reported in a check of 50 day cares across Fayetteville.

Santino, known as Sonny, was 4 months old when he suffocated in March 2012 after he was left unattended during tummy time at what was then known as Pope Child Care Center on Fort Bragg.

In the course of their lawsuit against the United States government, Santino's parents got a look at video from the day care that shows what happened, and they shared it with WRAL News.

It is difficult to watch.

  • Day care worker Vera Grant puts Sonny on his stomach on a mat.
  • A few minutes later, she puts a blanket under Sonny, but leaves him on his stomach even though he isn't yet strong enough to roll over.
  • Within 10 minutes, Sonny stops moving. No one notices.
  • Two minutes later, a cook comes in and, according to reports, notices Sonny doesn't look right but doesn't check on him.
  • Another worker passes just feet away from Sonny, and she can be seen laughing.
  • About 15 minutes after he was laid down, a day care employee says something doesn't look right, but is told Sonny is probably just sleeping.
  • Eight minutes after Sonny stopped moving, Grant finally realizes Sonny is not breathing and starts CPR. Emergency workers eventually resuscitated Sonny, but it was too late.
  • Sonny died six days later after he was taken off life support.

While Grant was fired after Sonny's death, the U.S. Attorney's Office decided not to file criminal charges against her.

Within a month, Fort Bragg issued updated training for child care workers, including a five-step program that involves instruction on tummy time, according to Fort Bragg spokesman Tom McCollum.

{{a href="image-2"}}A training presentation noted{{/a}} that policies were in place to protect infants from SIDS, then, on a slide labeled "What we are doing a tad wrong," said those policies were not always followed.

SIDS training: What we are doing a tad wrong

"Our biggest fear is it will happen again," said Rachel Degenhard.

The death of their son was devastating. Three years later, they are frustrated that it seems no lessons were learned and children are still at risk.

"There are just continual violations in things that matter to us, specifically at the same day care, which is extremely frustrating," said Jason Degenhard.

McCollum says Fort Bragg has different training standards for child care workers than the state and blames that difference for the citations.

"The differences between NCDHHS and Fort Bragg’s child care background checks, ITS-SIDS training standards and forms are something we have been working on with the state for years now," he said. "We have been told by state inspectors that this issue can be resolved, but the differences still exist.

"These differences should by no means lead anyone to believe our infant care givers are not well trained and professional," McCollum added.

Time goes on, and the Degenhards have had another son. Ten-month-old Nico has smiling eyes and kissable cheeks. Every time his parents see him, hold him, hear him, their hearts fill with love and break just a little bit.

"He looks just like Sonny did," said Jason Degenhard.

"This has been a godsend to us, because it's given us the opportunity to raise the son we didn't get to raise."

Although they settled their lawsuit, the Degenhards say their fight was never about money.

"An infant can't come home and tell you they had a bad day or that their arm hurt or anything," said Jason Degenhard. "They're 100 percent susceptible to the people in the room with them."

McCollum said post leaders sympathize with the Degenhards and are determined to protect the children in their care.

"Most of us in the Fort Bragg community cannot imagine the pain and suffering the Degenhards are going through, but we hope they know we took every step possible to protect their child Sonny and are taking every step possible to stop it from happening again," he said.


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  • K Hope Capps May 22, 2015
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    Thank you for sharing your story and trying to do something meaningful through your pain. I am sorry for your loss.

  • Donald Holder May 19, 2015
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    The state does the annual compliance inspection and investigates any complaints. The results are then turned over to the military who then decides on what, if any, action is taken. The state does the inspections because the army doesn't have people to fly all over the US and do them.

  • Santino Degenhard May 19, 2015
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    We want people to know that there was only one person fired in our sons death even though it was an entire staff and management failure. No punitive actions were taken. Not even child abuse or neglect charges at the very least. His death should have never happened! Workers involved were moved to other daycare centers on post. That's not fixing the problem to me, that's moving the complacent workers and managers that should have been fired involved in our son's death. We hope his story will allow you to form your own opinions and thoughts as we asked for answers and what Ft. Bragg responded with. "Checking the block" training didn't save our son. It's easy to point the fingers and blame only one person. However, the cameras in the room show the real truth to their "proper training". It's in our hopes and prayers our little boy did not die in Vain and this NEVER happens again.

  • Aanritsen Deur May 19, 2015
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    "'These differences should by no means lead anyone to believe our infant care givers are not well trained and professional,' McCollum added."

    No, actually a baby's death there while not being adequately supervised did that.

    And your own "Infant Enbironments - What we are doing a tad wrong" notes further convinced us.

  • Aanritsen Deur May 19, 2015
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    If they didn't, then the state wouldn't be able to inspect them either, and this story says, "...records show the facility failed a state safety inspection two years in a row."

  • Aanritsen Deur May 19, 2015
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    For crying out loud!
    Soldiers are doing the babysitting.
    Obviously GOOD professionals aren't either.

  • Donald Holder May 18, 2015
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    Military daycares don't fall under state supervision.

  • Chris Vet May 18, 2015
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    Who works at these places? Stop letting soldiers watch kids and hire some professionals.

  • Aanritsen Deur May 18, 2015
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    Sonny didn't die from SIDS, he died from suffocation by being placed on top of a blanket he couldn't lift his little face from.

    So when a day care facility fails, there's no law that kicks in to shut it down, at least temporarily until all the training or rehabbing required are completed?

    How's that help keep children safe in them then?