After his infant son Jeremy suffocated in a portable crib at an overcrowded Plantation day-care center, television reporter-turned-lawyer Mark Fiedelholtz did what he desperately wanted to avoid: He became a public figure.
Vowing that no child would die again as his infant son Jeremy had, Fiedelholtz spoke before Congress and the Florida Legislature, fighting to get laws passed in Florida and New York that made it a crime for child-care operators to lie to parents or authorities.
Then, finally, he slipped back into private life with his wife and two other children.
Until Jordan Coleman died.
Four-year-old Jordan perished in a hot SUV after an underage worker at an often-cited day-care left him there. The home-based day-care, 3C’s Academy, had gotten into trouble before for lying to authorities. Jeremy’s Law had been on the books — but mostly ignored.
Now Fiedelholtz finds himself back at the same battle he fought so many years ago.
“I can’t spend my entire life reliving Jeremy’s tragedy. You can’t ask a family to do that,” Fiedelholtz said. “It’s wrong. It’s not fair.”
In Jordan’s Aug. 1 death, day-care owner Cecily Roberts, 43, is charged with aggravated manslaughter and child-care misrepresentation, the technical name for Jeremy’s Law.
According to Broward prosecutors, it appears to be the first time the law has been cited in charging a person with a crime since the law was passed by Florida legislators in 1999.
Since reading about Jordan’s death, Fiedelholtz hasn’t slept. “We still look at day-care like a joke. We still look at it as ‘no day-care operator could hurt anybody,’ ” he said.
The fact that Fiedelholtz hadn’t read much about the law in recent years didn’t mean children weren’t dying:
In 2001, toddler Tyrese Green died in Tampa after being left for several hours in the van of a day-care that had previously been cited.
In 2005, a young boy was mistakenly left in a hot van for several hours by the Oakcrest Early Education Center in Ocala.
In 2010, Haile Brockington was at Katie’s Kids Learning Center in Delray Beach when she was left inside a van all day. She was picked up from her home at 8:30 a.m. and found dead in the van about 4 p.m.
In 2011, Dominicue Andrews died after he was left in a hot van at a Homestead day-care.
And on Aug. 1, 4-year-old Jordan suffocated in a sweltering SUV in Tamarac. He had been one of eight kids taken on a last-minute trip to evade the scrutiny of child-care regulators, who would have cited the business for having more kids than allowed if the eight weren’t kept out of sight.
Fiedelholtz said the problem comes from a gap between licensing authorities, which often only hand out citations, and law enforcement that can actually bring charges.
Jeremy’s Law was an attempt to fix that.
The lack of enforcement sends a message, Fiedelholtz said, that you can commit fraud in day-care and get a pass. There won’t be criminal charges and day-cares can continue to market themselves as licensed by the state, making parents think they are safer.
After Haile’s death, state Sen. Maria Lorts Sachs tried to pass a bill that would have required day-care operators to install devices in their vans that sound an alarm when a child is left unattended.
“I think people around the state are very much concerned about this,” the Delray Beach Democrat said. “I think it’s our state government and Legislature that has failed.”
Sachs said other lawmakers scuttled her bill on the theory that child-care centers, like other businesses, already are over-regulated. Sachs dismissed the objection, though, pointing out that insurance carriers that write policies for the industry supported the provision as a way to avoid multi-million dollar payments when a child dies.
The safety devices can cost as little as $80 to $150, and insurers told her they were willing to defray the cost for operators they insured.
“Politics can get in the way of business regulation,” Sachs said. “But when it comes to the safety of kids, you can’t bring these kids back — no matter what.”