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Parents sue in infant's death at Fort Bragg day care

Oct. 2, 2013 - 08:52PM   |  
Soldiers Rachel and Jason Degenhard filed a wrongful death lawsuit Sept. 30 alleging their 4-month-old son Santino died last year because a worker left him unsupervised face down in a blanket. '[Santino] remained face down on the blanket and was noted on video surveillance to be fussing and trying to lift his head,' the lawsuit states.
Soldiers Rachel and Jason Degenhard filed a wrongful death lawsuit Sept. 30 alleging their 4-month-old son Santino died last year because a worker left him unsupervised face down in a blanket. '[Santino] remained face down on the blanket and was noted on video surveillance to be fussing and trying to lift his head,' the lawsuit states. (Greg Clark / WRAL News)
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Racehl Degenhard reads a children's book while visiting the grave of her four-month old son Santino, who died last year. (Greg Clark / WRAL News)

A couple at Fort Bragg, N.C., are suing the government for $10 million, alleging their infant son died because he was neglected at a post day care facility.

Soldiers Rachel and Jason Degenhard filed a wrongful death lawsuit Sept. 30 alleging their 4-month-old son Santino died last year because a worker left him unsupervised face down in a blanket.

“[Santino] remained face down on the blanket and was noted on video surveillance to be fussing and trying to lift his head,” the lawsuit states.

The day care worker “did not respond to Santino’s fussing,” which is a violation of state law, the lawsuit states.

The day care worker had placed the baby on a blanket on the floor at 7:13 a.m. He struggled several times to lift his face out of the blanket before he stopped moving completely nine minutes later, at 7:24 a.m.

A second employee came in afterward and commented she thought the baby was a stuffed animal. Both looked at him, “but neither staff member approached or touched him,” the lawsuit says.

A medical examiner determined positional asphyxiation caused Santino’s death, according to the lawsuit.

The state placed the worker on its registry of people who are responsible for serious child neglect.

Army criminal investigators also found violations of Army regulations governing supervision of children at child care facilities, according to the lawsuit. The violated sections which dictate that children be under constant visual supervision and that more than one adult supervise them.

The facility is operating under a new name, Eagle Child Development Center, and under a probationary license, according to state records. The state had revoked the license after Santino’s death.

Formerly known as Pope Child Development Center, it was cited for six violations of state law after an investigation by the North Carolina Division of Child Development and Early Education.

A Fort Bragg spokeswoman deferred comment on the lawsuit to the Department of Justice, which had not filed a response to the Degenhard’s lawsuit.

More than 118 children have died of abuse or neglect in Army families since 2003.

The Degenhards’ suit alleges that after Rachel Degenhard dropped her son off at 5:30 a.m. on March 9, 2012, the first day care worker placed him face down on a vinyl mat with a blanket underneath, in direct violation of the facility’s policy that children be placed on their backs.

The staff member allegedly left the room, and “failed to provide appropriate supervision for the children in her care, and particularly, Santino,” also alleged to be in violation of the law.

The worker was seen on video cleaning the classroom, and went into the closet and the bathroom, WRAL-TV reported.

At 7:32 a.m., the staff member who placed Santino face down carried him across the room to a crib. That’s when she noticed he had turned blue, attempted CPR and called emergency services.

The baby was in cardiac arrest when first responders arrived, and he died six days later at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in Fayetteville.

His parents consented to withdraw life support after doctors determined he would either stay in a persistent vegetative state or require artificial life support to survive. Doctors determined he had suffered a brain injury consistent with oxygen deprivation.

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