Yunior Feliciano says the heartache from the loss of his boy three months ago has yet to subside. He still carries the child’s pacifier with him wherever he goes.
“You have no idea, when we go to bed and close our eyes, what we see,” said Feliciano, sitting in his Hialeah apartment with his wife, Mirelys Morales, surrounded by pictures of their son. “We delivered our boy to the daycare at 5 in the morning and picked him at 3 that afternoon, dead.”
Three-year-old Jonathan drowned in December after more than 20 minutes in the pool of a family daycare, whose premises had been certified as safe by the Department of Children & Families. Two months later, police arrested Zobeida González, the woman who runs the daycare, on charges of aggravated manslaughter of a child, and child negligence.
González was formally charged on Friday and her attorney, Scott Egleston, said that she is pleading not guilty.
Beyond justice for the boy’s death, his parents want DCF to prohibit pools at daycare facilities and invest in better training for inspectors so no other children die this way.
“They need to better prepare their people, to teach them what is safe. The inspectors are guilty [of Jonathan's death] because of their lack of preparation and knowledge of the laws,” Feliciano said. “Their incompetence cost my son his life.”
Egleston questions how his client could have known that Jonathan might enter the pool area if DCF inspectors had certified that it was safe. DCF codes require that pools be secured with a fence or other mechanism to prevent children from falling in.
The pool where Jonathan drowned passed four inspections by DCF, which requires daycare centers to erect barriers that can limit access to swimming pools, and to not have gaps that a child can squeeze through. The medical examiner determined that Jonathan easily passed between the bars of the patio door leading to the pool.
Jonathan played on the steps and on the above-ground pool deck unsupervised for at least five minutes. He was in the water for 23 minutes before anyone noticed, footage from a surveillance camera showed, according to the González arrest warrant .
A DCF investigation deemed that the incident should not impact the businesses’ child-care license because Jonathan’s death occurred on a Sunday, when the center was not licensed to operate, among other reasons.
Feliciano and Morales told authorities that on Sunday, Dec. 22, they dropped their son off at the Mayling Brache family daycare in Northwest Miami-Dade at 5:30 a.m. before going to work at Miami International Airport .
Jonathan was the only child in the nursery that Sunday around 1 p.m., when, according to the arrest warrant, Brache exited the house and left Jonathan under the care of her mother, Zobeida González. The boy was left alone in the patio.
Surveillance footage shows Jonathan playing unsupervised up and down the three steps leading to the pool, walking on the deck and then jumping in. After 23 minutes, Brache and another person see him, pull him from the water and try to revive him without success.
Twenty minutes later, at 2:10 p.m., Brache called Jonathan’s parents, Feliciano said.
“Mayling tells us: ‘The boy has fallen into the pool, has swallowed water and the rescue team took him,’ ” recalled Feliciano. “We were calmed by the fact that rescue had taken him, that he was safe. We went to the hospital not knowing that our son was dead.”
Even as they spoke to doctors, they thought Jonathan was still alive.
“I had that mother’s hope,” Morales said. “When those doctors told me, ‘We’re sorry, we could not do anything for him,’ it was very hard.”
Feliciano and Morales, both of Cuban origin, came to the United States two years ago to offer their children a better future and to help family on the island. Several months ago, when a neighbor told them she could no longer take care of Jonathan, they sought professional daycare rather than leave the boy with an older son.
The nursery school where Jonathan was enrolled Monday through Friday recommended the Mayling Brache family daycare. When the parents went to the facility, which operates out of a house at 2955 NW 99th St., Brache showed them several certificates and told them the daycare could care for their child any day of the week, 24 hours a day, they claim.
The couple say they were never told that the daycare was licensed to operate only Monday through Friday, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Feliciano and Morales said they saw other children in the center on weekends, usually two or three, and sometimes crossed paths with other parents picking up their children. The couple said they always paid in cash and were never given receipts.
Jonathan’s parents say Brache told them that her mother worked with her but never told them she was not registered as an employee or licensed to help with the daycare.
DCF press secretary Michelle Glady said the agency is investigating Jonathan’s death as it does all child drownings reported to its hotline.
Feliciano said it is hurtful that the daycare has not been stripped of its license.
“When I saw that [in the news], I wanted to die,” Feliciano said. “They can make money in any other way, but not taking care of children. The proof of that is my dead child.”
González declined to speak to el Nuevo Herald, saying she was too upset to talk.
DCF has not opened an investigation as to why its inspector, Samson Fateru, an employee since 1989 and inspector since 1997, certified three times that the door leading to the patio was safe. At the time of the drowning, the door had holes large enough for a child to get through.
Douglas Nieblas, who first inspected the daycare, ordered Brache to install a lock on the door that provides access to the pool. Brache installed the lock and no other violations were cited.
“We want them [DCF] to prohibit pools at daycare centers,” Feliciano said. “It's like starting a fire near a gas station.”
Follow Maria Perez on Twitter: @ mariajpsl