Joy Green is distraught. And angry.
And heartbroken, says her cousin Gary Chambers, over the death of her toddler, Angel Green. The 22-month-old girl died Friday after being left unattended in a sweltering day care van.
Speaking Tuesday on behalf of his cousin, Chambers also said the mother of four girls was upset because no one told her the Prescott Road day care was operating illegally before Angel died. The day care’s owner, Shelia Newman, previously owned a different day care on Thomas Road in Baker, and the state stripped the baby-sitting business’ license last year after citing the facility with numerous violations during a handful of inspections over a two-year period.
“The thing that upsets Joy the most is that Shelia Newman lied to her,” said Chambers, who grew up with Joy Green in Baton Rouge.
He said Friday was “pretty much a normal day” for his cousin. After getting off work, Green went home to nap, planning to pick up her daughter afterward — a decision that has haunted her since Angel’s death.
But before time came to pick up Angel, the mother received a call from Newman.
Angel was “passed out,” Newman told her, according to Chambers, and Green should head to the day care. Less than 10 minutes later, while Green was on the way, Newman called her again, Chambers said.
The mother was advised to head straight to the hospital.
When Green arrived, hospital staffers told her they worked on Angel for about half an hour, “but there was nothing they could do to save her life,” Chambers said.
“Angel was her baby, her youngest child,” he said. “And so she’s devastated … she’s going through tremendous pain right now.”
Newman, 47, remained locked up Tuesday at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison in lieu of $75,000 bail. She was booked there Friday on counts of negligent homicide and obstruction of justice after police said she tried to force an employee of the day care, April Wright, to lie to police about where and how Angel was found.
Wright, 26, was released Tuesday from the Parish Prison after posting $50,000 bail. She had been held there since Friday on a count of negligent homicide in the toddler’s death.
In an interview Tuesday evening, Chambers said Green did not know Newman was running the day care business illegally. He said Green was referred to Newman through friends whose children were cared for by her, and although Green knew a day care existed in Baker, she was unaware it closed, much less the reason behind the shut down.
“She just didn’t know,” Chambers said.
The state revoked the license for “Shelia’s Academy & Daycare” last April after finding the Baker facility understaffed on multiple site visits. On at least one occasion, sleeping infants weren’t supervised, and the day care piled too many children into a van, according to inspection records provided by the state.
One violation, in March 2013, was particularly troubling.
Inspectors could not find paperwork showing drivers checked their vehicle to make sure no children were left behind after road trips. There also was no documentation of attendance on the trips.
Chambers said Green and some other parents did not know Newman took their children off-site for lunch, as she did on Friday prior to Angel’s death.
“They weren’t paying $30 a week,” Chambers said. “They were paying regular day care rates almost. There’s no reason the children should have been taken off-site in the first place.”
When asked whether other parents knew about Newman’s troubles in Baker, Chambers said he couldn’t be sure of the extent. Green told him Newman hung what appeared to be a license on a wall in the day care, so parents had no reason to believe she was operating illegally.
Still, Chambers said some of the parents likely knew the Baker day care was closed.
“But I don’t think some of the parents were concerned, because she had been watching their kids for years,” he said.
Chambers said he has heard from at least one other parent whose child went to Newman’s unlicensed day care center. The parent never expected anything such as a child’s death to occur. Chambers said.
“Some said she did a great job with children,” he said.
According to Baton Rouge police, Newman and Wright took 16 children, including Angel, to lunch on Friday at a nearby church. When they returned, only 15 kids were unloaded in the van.
At some point, Wright realized Angel was missing.
When she checked the van, which was parked at Newman’s home, Wright found Angel in the front passenger seat, a police report says.
The toddler “was extremely hot and unresponsive,” the report says.
Angel was taken to a nearby fire station, where first responders soon realized the toddler needed to be at a hospital. Angel was pronounced dead at the hospital, where staffers told police she arrived with an internal body temperature of 108 degrees.
“Children are the most precious gift God gives us,” Chambers said Tuesday. “What makes me angry is that simple neglect. Just not even being alert is what caused this child to die.”
“As a parent it makes you question everything about having your kids in child care,” said Chambers, who has a child of his own. “But in this day and age it’s what you have to do. You have to work.”
In the aftermath of Angel’s death, her mother wants to push the state to be more transparent about the revocation of day care licenses. Green wants it to be easy for parents to know when and why the licenses were revoked, too, Chambers said.
As recently as Monday morning, the state Department of Education listed “Shelia’s Academy & Daycare” as a licensed day care on its website. By Monday afternoon, the error was fixed.
The responsibility of overseeing the state’s day cares was transferred in October from the Department of Children and Family Services to the Department of Education.
Barry Landry, a Department of Education spokesman, said Tuesday online reports about valid day care centers were the same ones previously available on the DCFS website. He said the website has been updated to remove all unlicensed facilities.
“While it has not historically been the practice to maintain a list of facilities with revoked licenses before LDOE took over the regulation of child care centers,” Landry said, “the Department sees merit in this suggestion and is interested in making this addition to the website.”
After Angel’s death, a state inspector visited the nondescript building at 6345 Prescott Road where police said Newman was operating the illegal day care.
During that visit, the regulator determined no families were being served.
Angel Gabrielle Green’s funeral is scheduled for Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Hall Davis & Son funeral home on Scenic Highway. Chambers said the family would appreciate donations to cover expenses, which can be made at an account created on the GoFundMe fundraising website.