Improper documentation of vehicle checks. Unsupervised sleeping infants. An understaffed facility.
After the state stripped away the license of Shelia Newman’s day care last April, citing those violations among others, Newman swore she would never operate an unlicensed child care center in Louisiana.
But she failed to honor her promise, police said, and a toddler died Friday after spending at least two hours trapped in Newman’s van. Exposure to intense heat killed the 22-month-old girl, the Coroner’s Office said Monday.
Angel Gabrielle Green’s death came after Newman swore her promise in a court document in September, and a little more than a year after the state Department of Children and Family Services revoked the license for Shelia’s Academy & Daycare. The Baker baby-sitting business, which was incorporated in 2002, closed after its license was revoked.
But at some point between the closure of her Baker day care on Thomas Road and Angel’s death on Friday, Newman opened up the illegal day care operation in a nondescript, residential-type building across the street from her Prescott Road home.
“This woman was running an unlicensed, under-the-radar, home child care facility,” said Barry Landry, a spokesman for the Department of Education, which in October took over from DCFS the responsibility of overseeing day care centers in Louisiana.
Even on Monday morning, long after Newman’s legitimate day care business was shut down, the Department of Education’s website listed Shelia’s Academy & Daycare as one of many licensed state facilities.
By Monday afternoon, the entry was removed from the website.
Landry, the Department of Education spokesman, said the state was unaware of Newman’s illegal day care center. But Landry also said the state would have needed a complaint to intervene earlier, and the agency never received one.
On Monday morning, Newman’s most recent day care operation, at 6345 Prescott Road, appeared closed. Also, no one answered the door at her home across the street.
Meanwhile, Newman and one of her employees, April Wright, remained jailed. Newman and Wright both were booked on counts of negligent homicide. Newman also was booked on obstruction of justice.
“I tell ya, this neighborhood ain’t never been the same,” Joe Ann Matthews, who lives next to Newman, said Monday while gazing at the inactivity across the street.
Matthews, 63, said Newman does not have children of her own. Matthews also said that when she first learned about the dead child, she felt bad for Newman, thinking a terrible accident must have occurred.
But when Matthews heard Newman allegedly tried to force Wright, her employee, to lie to police about Angel’s death, Matthews’ sympathy disappeared.
According to a police report, Newman instructed her employee to tell detectives that Angel was found in the backyard of the day care. Wright also was supposed to pour water on the back steps to make it look like she had cleaned up vomit, the report says.
In reality, the toddler was found Friday afternoon inside the van. Angel previously went with other children to eat lunch at Jehovah Ministry on Wenonah Street.
But when all the other children were removed from the van, Angel was left behind, police said.
“That baby just burned to death,” said Deborah White, who lives in the same home as Matthews, next to Newman’s home. “I just hope nobody has any more day cares around here.”
The day care is located in a predominantly residential area of Prescott Road between East Brookstown Drive and Airline Highway. The neighbors said Newman lived next to them for at least nine years, but it wasn’t clear how long she had been running the unlicensed day care across the street.
According to documents provided by the state, Shelia’s Academy and Daycare was inspected a handful of times between August 2012 and March 2014, the month before its license was revoked.
The baby-sitting business understaffed its facility on at least five occasions during the time period, according to a letter sent by the Department of Children and Family Services to Newman last April.
And on at least one occasion, the day care operators piled too many children into a vehicle, the letter says, while also failing to properly supervise some children the same day.
According to a report based on a March 10, 2014, visit to Newman’s day care in Baker, a DCFS inspector observed three rule violations.
For an unspecified amount of time, there was one adult supervising 16 children, all either 3 or 4 years old. The proper child-to-staff ratio for that age group is 14 to 1, the report says.
Another time, children were playing outside without supervision when a staff member who was watching them stepped away to unlock the day care’s door for a parent. The report does not make clear how long the children were unsupervised.
In addition, 17 children were stuffed into a van along with an adult supervisor. The van “manufacturer’s recommended max capacity” was 15 passengers, the report says.
Those findings, combined with other child-to-staff ratio violations observed on Aug. 6, 2012; Nov. 8, 2012; April 25, 2013; and Aug. 22, 2013, led DCFS to revoke the Baker day care center’s license last April.
One finding in particular is troubling in hindsight. Inspectors looked but could not find paperwork showing that drivers checked their vehicle to make sure no children were left on board.
When Newman swore the affidavit in September, she promised to refrain from operating a day care without a license. That means she pledged not to operate a child care facility housing more than seven children unrelated to her outside the presence of their parents — at least not without a license.
But according to police, she broke her promise and it had deadly consequences.
By the time Angel made it to the hospital, her tiny body’s core temperature was 108 degrees. She was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Dr. Beau Clark, East Baton Rouge Parish’s coroner, said Monday that the toddler died of intense heat exposure, and there were no obvious signs of natural disease. Technically, Angel’s cause of death was “hyperthermia secondary to environmental exposure,” Clark said.
Angel’s death was ruled accidental.
Editor's Note: The headline on this story was changed at 10 a.m. on June 9, 2015, to clarify that violations cited in the story occurred in Shelia Newman's previous business in Baker and the child died while in the care of her unlicensed child care center in Baton Rouge.