Criminal court

State had signed off on West Miami-Dade daycare pool where toddler drowned

 

dovalle@MiamiHerald.com

Toddler Jonathan Feliciano slipped through a fence around the pool at his West Miami-Dade daycare center, jumped in the water and drowned.

That pool was no secret to the state agency that regulates daycare facilities. Four times during the past two years, an inspector had declared it safe, according to internal reports by the Florida Department of Children and Families.

The revelation comes one day after Zobeida Gonzalez, 63, a staffer at the Mayling Brache Family Day Care, was arrested and charged with aggravated manslaughter and child neglect with great harm. She posted a bond of $22,500 on Thursday and was released for jail.

Gonzalez runs the home daycare along with her daughter, Malying Brache, and her husband, Nivaldo Brache.

Gonzalez’s attorney, Scott Egleston, said Thursday that his client had done no wrong.

“The experts checked it out,” he said. “They were given the green light that it was, in fact, up to code and was in compliance with the regulations of safety for a pool.”

According to Miami-Dade police, the operators had never obtained the proper permit from the county for the pool. The owners also told the insurance company that there was no pool, according to an arrest warrant. Detectives also determined that the fence railings were inadequate, wide enough for a child to slip through.

But inspectors from the Florida Department of Children and Families, which regulates daycare facilities, knew of the above-ground pool at daycare. In March 2012, inspector Douglas Nieblas recommended that a padlock be added to the wooden gate around the above-ground pool; the owners immediately added the lock, according to the inspection report.

In October 2012, inspector Sam Faturu noted that the pool was “secure.” He did the same in March 2013 and October 2013.

After the child’s death, DCF reviewed the inspections and found they had been done in compliance with the agency’s administrative codes, according to spokeswoman Lissette Valdes-Valle.

“No matter how many fences, alarms, any type of protection, that there are, nothing substitutes adequate supervision,” she said.

The toddler, 3-year-old Jonathan Feliciano, fell in the pool on Dec. 22 at the daycare facility, run from the family’s home at 2955 NW 99th St.

That morning, the child’s parents left him in the care of Gonzalez, Mayling’s mother, who helps run the facility.

Gonzalez initially told investigators that she left the boy alone for “only a minute or two” in an outside play area as she went inside to turn off an air conditioning unit. But surveillance video from a neighbor’s yard showed that the baby was actually unattended for at least 29 minutes, according to an arrest warrant.

The footage showed the toddler playing on the stairs of the above-ground pool for more than six minutes before jumping into the water. The boy was in the water for nearly 23 minutes before Gonzalez’s daughter pulled him out of the pool and tried to resuscitate him.

But Egelston said that the video is misleading because it does not show that Gonzalez had been frantically looking for the child inside and around the house for some time before they finally realized the child had squeezed through the pool fence.

“It’s such a tragedy. Zobeida loved this boy so much. She considered him like a grandson. He used to call her abuelita,’’ Egleston said. “They adored each other.”

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