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Lawsuit Filed After Toddler Was Allegedly Duct Taped To Nap Mat At Texas Daycare

By Deanna Boyd, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

FORT WORTH, Texas — Parents of a toddler who was allegedly duct taped to his nap mat by a daycare co-owner in Willow Park, west of Fort Worth, filed suit Tuesday against the Heart2Heart Montessori Academy.

Kristi and Brad Galbraith allege that Heart2Heart was negligent in properly carrying out its responsibilities and supervising employees, resulting in injury and pain to their 2 1/2 year-old son, in their suit, filed in Parker County.

The allegations surfaced June 17 after an employee, Hannah Tidwell, called Kristi Galbraith advising her that her son and another boy had been forcefully secured by duct tape to their napping mats by one of the facility’s owners, Pamela Decker.

“When she contacted me, the first thing she said was, ‘I wanted you to know we called CPS (Child Protective Services) today.’ Of course, I felt sick to my stomach, probably wailed out loud in the car,” Kristi Galbraith said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I asked her ‘What do you mean? What happened?’ Then she proceeded to tell me what actually happened to our son that day.”

Tidwell then sent Kristi Galbraith three photographs that she had snapped of the boy, secured to the mat with the thick, silver tape.

She told the Galbraiths that when she confronted Decker about her actions, Decker responded: “Do not say anything about this. I know this (is) illegal but felt it was necessary.”

The allegations sparked investigations by the state’s Child Care Licensing and Willow Park police. Both investigations remained open as of Tuesday, officials said.

“We have interviewed all the parents involved. We have begun interviewing some of the employees and former employees,” said Willow Police Chief Brad Johnson said. “We hope to wrap this up in the next couple of weeks and present it to the district attorney’s office. It probably will be presented to the grand jury without any arrest on our end. That’s the plan as it stands today.”

Heart2Heart remains open.

The lawsuit names Heart2Heart, its management company, Decker, and Decker’s daughter, Ashlea J. Pena, who is co-owner of the facility. The suit seeks between $200,000 and $1 million in monetary relief.

Jeff Rasansky, the Galbraiths’ attorney, called the alleged behavior an “unconscionable breach of faith that parents place in child care providers” and said the lawsuit was necessary to ensure the incident is properly investigated “so that no other child is ever treated this way.”

“Unfortunately, I think it happens a lot more often than we care to think.” Rasansky said. “Parents have to take a leap of faith in leaving their kids at daycare centers and are always going to believe that folks are going to take care of their kids the same way they’d take of their own and often times may not trust their instincts or gut.”

Heart2Heart owners did not immediately respond to a phone message left at the business Tuesday seeking comment.

The lawsuit states that in her talks with the Galbraiths, Tidwell told the parents that Decker had previously used duct tape on another little girl.

Tidwell said she had witnessed other “abusive behavior” at the facility, including the locking of a child in a room alone for an extended time, withholding water from children, and limiting the children to two water breaks per day so the staff did not need to change as many diapers, according to the lawsuit.

She told the Galbraiths that in addition to contacting them, she had quit her job and notified CPS.

The lawsuit states the parents went to the daycare center together and confronted Decker about the accusation. Decker neither admitted nor denied the accusation and “appeared to shrug off the accusation as implausible.”

“It was only after the Galbraiths advised her that they had copies of photographs of their son duct taped to the nap mat that Ms. Decker became visibly shaken; not distraught with what she had done but rather distressed that she had been caught,” the lawsuit states.

Then, stuttering and mumbling, Decker repeatedly apologized to the Galbraiths, saying that she should not have done this, the lawsuit alleges.

The Gailbraiths immediately pulled their son from the school and alerted other parents. Within days, they were served with a “cease and desist” letter from the academy’s attorneys, threatening “serious penalties and damages” if the couple continued “making false statements,” according to the lawsuit.

A day after the confrontation with Decker, the lawsuit states that Decker called another parent, Lorrie Almquist, saying she wanted to update her on what was occurring at the school.

A day earlier, Almquist had received two emails from Decker — one requesting that she, too, order a weighted blanket for her son and the other, informing her that Tidwell was making false accusations against the school and was no longer an employee.

In the phone call, Decker asked Almquist if she had talked to any parents or the “father of the other little boy.”

Almquist, unaware of what Decker was referring to, said no.

“Ms. Decker advised Ms. Almquist that Ms. Tidwell was pregnant and hormonal and saying crazy things about the school,” the lawsuit states.

Decker went on to admit to Almquist that while she was walking through a classroom, Decker noticed that Almquist’s son and another little boy were not lying down and napping and “that she got frustrated.”

“Ms. Decker then told Ms. Almquist that she did something ‘incredibly stupid and one of the dumbest things she had ever done’ and decided to duct tape her son and the other little boy to their nap mats. Decker apologized to Ms. Almquist and advised her that other parents ‘were freaking out’ and that the dad of the other little boy had sent out a ‘big email,'” the lawsuit alleges. “Ms. Decker told Ms. Almquist that ‘this whole thing has been blown out of proportion.'”

Daycare owners held a June 19 meeting with parents to address rumors and accusations going around and inform them about the investigation by Child Care Licensing.

Decker spoke briefly during the meeting, according to the lawsuit, telling parents she would be “100 percent honest” and tell them the truth.

She then recounted for parents her repeated attempts to get “the little boy that the father is so upset about” to lay down at nap time and the “very foolish decision” she made after he would not. She told the parents she got duct tape from the facility’s kitchen, asked the boy to lie down, then pulled the blanket over him and placed a strip of the tape across the blanket.

“He was quiet. He never cried. He never complained. He was not in any anguish. … He was not harmed in any way, emotionally, physically, at all,” Decker allegedly told the parents, according to the lawsuit.

“It was stupid. It was inappropriate. … I can’t change it and I’m sorry for that,” Decker told parents, according to the lawsuit.

In a news release, Rasansky’s law firm states that the daycare has since implemented changes, including the installation of cameras and regular liquid breaks for the children and that, according to the school, Decker is no longer working at the daycare.

Photo via WikiCommons

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One Child Dead, 14 Hurt In Hit-And-Run Crash At Florida Day-Care Center

By Jeff Weiner, Susan Jacobson and Amy Pavuk, Orlando Sentinel

WINTER PARK, Fla. — Joel Rosado sprinted to the scene as soon as he heard the screeches and saw a black Toyota Solara plow into the Goldenrod Road KinderCare, where a four-year-old girl lay dying and 14 others were injured.

“We could see the teachers were, like, panicking,” Rosado said. One was performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on a child, and other children were bleeding — “laid out, not moving.”

As the horror unfolded, panicked parents scrambled to the scene and authorities started an immediate manhunt for 28-year-old Robert Corchado, who they say was driving the Dodge Durango that rammed the Toyota toward the building in Winter Park, north of Orlando.

The driver of the Durango didn’t stop to see the carnage and chaos he left behind Wednesday afternoon.

It all started about 3 p.m.

The Solara, which had been turning into a driveway separating the day-care center from Goldenrod Plaza professional offices, barreled through the parking lot, through a bush and into the KinderCare building, according to preliminary Florida Highway Patrol information.

Rosado, who was working on the roof of a nearby gas station, climbed down and ran to the center.

“It was bad,” he said. The driver of the Solara, Albert Dean Campbell, 61, of Winter Park, emerged uninjured but visibly emotional, Rosado said.

Rescue crews descended on the day care, and news helicopters captured images of small children being removed from the day care on stretchers.

Orange County Fire Rescue spokesman John Mulhall said earlier in the day at least 15 people were hurt in the crash, 13 of whom were taken to hospitals. Twelve were children. The injured were rushed to four different hospitals.

Mulhall said they were being treated for a “variety of injuries, both severe and mild.”

“This was a very intense scene, a very severe scene,” Mulhall said.

Said FHP Trooper Wanda Diaz of the injuries: “Some are very, very serious.”

After conflicting reports for most of the day, Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando confirmed the first death about 6:45 p.m. The girl’s name was not released.

One other patient was in critical condition, and five more were in serious condition, the hospital said. Another patient had been released by Wednesday evening.

Meanwhile, the hunt was on for Corchado.

Authorities found the Durango at a house on Orange Avenue in Winter Park — its bumper left behind at the crash scene.

Neighbors who milled about as troopers investigated said the SUV was one of several vehicles routinely parked outside.

One nearby resident who did not want to be identified said the Durango drove up the street with a distinct clanking sound. A man wearing a red shirt and black hat parked it in the driveway and left a short while later, the neighbor said.

Four neighbors said vehicles come and go from the salmon-colored house at all hours, especially Thursday and Friday nights.

About 18 months ago, one neighbor said, a man was seen sneaking after dark up to the house and slashing the tires of a vehicle parked outside. When the people inside the house were told of the vandalism and asked if they wanted deputies called, the neighbor was told, “We don’t want any cops.”

The people living there Wednesday could not be reached for comment, while at least five FHP troopers stood outside.

The search for Corchado soon led to Orlando International Airport, where police were on the lookout for several hours.

Troopers said they were concerned that he planned to fly out of town, but late Wednesday the search shifted to a black Mazda SUV, which authorities say Corchado rented in Winter Park.

He was still at large late Wednesday, as information of his past run-ins with law enforcement began to surface.

Records show Corchado was sentenced to three years in prison in 2010 on cocaine-trafficking charges stemming from an arrest in May 2009. He was released in September 2012 but arrested in December in Seminole County.

In that case, which is still pending, Corchado faces charges of heroin and cocaine possession with intent to sell, as well as leaving the scene of a crash involving property damage.

He was released from jail on more than $10,000 bail. Corchado served another prison stint almost a decade ago for extortion, records show.

On Wednesday evening, state troopers and Seminole County deputies were at a house on Grand Avenue in Winter Park listed as Corchado’s in state corrections records.

Earlier in the day, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, speaking at the scene, implored area residents to be vigilant and to pray for the injured and their families.

“Keep them in your prayers … together we will find whoever is responsible for this,” she said. Jacobs was later seen arriving with one of the families at Arnold Palmer Hospital. She left a short time later, her eyes red with tears, and said she could not comment further.

Parents flocked to the day care after the crash to retrieve their children. Some parents and young ones were seen crying, others talking to firefighters and investigators.

Talmus Williams, 36, whose two-year-old son attends the day-care center, got a news alert and hurried to pick up the boy.

He and other parents lined up at a shopping center at Goldenrod Road and University Boulevard, where they showed identification and picked their children up.

Williams’ son, Jaydrien, was unharmed.

Jaydrien’s mother, 39-year-old Evette Rivera, said she saw “a huge hole” in the side of the building that led into a classroom.

By Wednesday evening, the Solara had been extracted from that chasm.

Knowledge Universe, the parent corporation of the Goldenrod day-care center, calls itself the largest U.S. private provider of early-childhood education, with more than 200,000 children at 1,700 centers in 39 states.

Besides its KinderCare Learning Centers, it operates a series of education businesses, including Champions, Cambridge Schools, Knowledge Beginnings and Grove Schools, and employs about 40,000 employees, according to corporate records.

In a statement, Knowledge Universe said the day care’s staff acted quickly to assess the injured children and notify parents.

“Our thoughts are with all of our families and staff, and we are pulling for those who have been injured to quickly recover from this tragic accident,” the statement said.

Photo: Dow Constantine, King County Executive via Flickr