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Friday, May 30, 2008

Caregiver faces trial in death of child

The Wichita Eagle

Right: Jessica Cummings.

When day care provider Jessica Cummings put 13-month-old Kailee Hundley into a car seat March 25, she fastened the top harness but not the bottom one.

Then she left the girl unattended in a day care home bathroom and did not check on her for about 2 ½ hours, a Wichita police detective testified Thursday.

During that time, Kailee slid down in the seat and choked on the straps, said Detective Wendy Hummell, the only witness at Cummings' preliminary hearing.

After listening to Hummell, District Judge Joseph Bribiesca found sufficient evidence for Cummings to stand trial on a charge of involuntary manslaughter, a felony.

Bribiesca called Kailee's death a "terrible tragedy" and said it will be up to a jury to decide whether Cummings is criminally liable. He scheduled her trial for Aug. 18.

The judge said by Cummings' "own admission" to Hummell, she didn't properly buckle the girl into the car seat before she left her.

When Cummings did check on the girl, it was too late.

Bribiesca also cited an autopsy report that said Kailee died from accidental strangulation.
After the hearing, Kailee's paternal aunt, Teressa Hays, said, "We held our breath as the judge read his decision." The family is glad the case is going to trial, Hays said.

"We want someone to be held accountable," she said. Cummings' defense attorney, John Stang, entered a not-guilty plea.

Stang argued that Cummings followed some of the safety warnings on the car seat. She secured the top harness, he noted. He also said that Cummings did not intentionally endanger the child.
In a recent interview, Stang called the death an "awful accident" and said Cummings "feels awful about what happened."

In Thursday's hearing, Hummell said the car seat had multiple, visible warnings on its labels. One said "strangulation hazard." Another said "never leave child unattended."

During an interview, Cummings told the homicide detective that Kailee had been crying loudly.
Cummings didn't want Kailee to disturb other children at her day care home. So Cummings moved her to another part of the house, to a bathroom off the kitchen, and left the door partly open, Hummell said.

A forensic examination determined that with the bottom harness unfastened, the top strap slipped to Kailee's neck, choking her, Hummell said.

During the hearing, prosecutor Shannon Wilson asked Hummell what Cummings said when Hummell asked why she left the bottom strap unsecured. That "it was snug enough," Hummell replied.

Cummings heard Kailee crying for two to three minutes after placing her in the car seat, then "assumed she had gone to sleep," Hummell said.

When Cummings checked on the girl, she found her "looking blue in the face," her head slumped over -- with the straps around her neck, Hummell testified.

Cummings told the detective she immediately pulled the girl out of the seat, began CPR and called 911.

As Kailee's relatives and family friends listened to Hummell's description, some of them cried softly. Cummings often looked down, sometimes writing on a pad.

Hummell said another safety label on the car seat said it was designed for children up to 20 pounds. Kailee weighed 23 pounds at the autopsy.

The car seat had been used by Cummings' daughter, Hummell said.

During the autopsy, a forensic pathologist placed Kailee's body in the car seat and found that even though she exceeded the weight limit, she would have fit into the seat if it had been properly fastened. Had the bottom strap been secured, she would have been prevented from sliding down, Hummell said. The neck injuries appeared to have been caused by the upper harness.

At one point during the hours that Cummings did not check on Kailee, Cummings had been outside with other children, Hummell said.

Two days after Kailee's death, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment issued an emergency order suspending Cummings' day care license. Because of the order, Cummings can't operate a day care home.

In a separate case, Kailee's mother, Katie Robertson, has been charged with murder in the Feb. 27 death of her 2-year-old stepdaughter, Daytona Robertson.

Did this poor kid have chance at all?

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