Unsafe sleep possible factor in day care death

Levi Spear. (Undated courtesy photo)

PORTLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — A Portland home day care was shut down after an infant died shortly after being put to sleep in an adult bed.

The incident happened on Nov. 6, 2013 at the now former daycare in the 11000 block of Cutler Road. Investigators were called to the home at 11:26 a.m. after the baby was found unresponsive and not breathing, Department of Human Services records show.

“He did not have a pulse, and his skin was cool to the touch,” a DHS employee wrote in an order of summary suspension and notice of intent to revoke Hillis’ child care license.

The baby, 5-month-old Levi Spear, was pronounced dead at 11:40 a.m.

The Ingham County Medical Examiner’s Office performed the autopsy on Levi because he was pronounced dead at a hospital in that county. Investigators found that Levi died from Sudden Unexplained Infant Death Syndrome, noting that unsafe sleeping conditions were a factor.

The state found that the child care owner Diane Hillis violated regulations when someone working at her home put Levi in an adult bed to sleep.

Further, the state investigation revealed that unqualified staffers were watching children at the daycare.

Hillis is also accused of conspiring with her sister, who was there when the incident happened, to lie to police and tell them that Levi had been in appropriate sleeping space.

The sister went through with the lie, police said, but later told the truth.

In a settlement agreement with the state, Hillis agreed to close her day care. She will be able to reapply for a license in two years.

“You have no idea,” Hillis told 24 Hour News 8 over the phone. “My whole life is ruined.”

“I loved that baby, too…It’s been horrible,” Hillis continued.

Hillis said she doesn’t believe that the baby’s sleep conditions contributed to his death. She says the baby was put in the bed where he would be most comfortable.

She also denies conspiring to lie to police saying that she believes her sister was simply trying to protect her from getting into trouble.

“I’m not a horrible bad person,” Hillis said. “I wasn’t trying to hide anything.”

Hillis also has the support of Levi’s parents.

Lauren Spear, Levi’s mother, said she does not believe that unsafe sleep contributed to her son’s death and is disappointed that the state took action against Hillis.

Some 150 children die in unsafe sleep situations in Michigan each year, the Department of Human Services website says in a section dedicated to educating families about safe sleep.

“These deaths are 100 percent preventable,” the website reads.

Hillis said she questions the notion that these situations actually contribute to deaths.

“There’s nobody putting out how many babies die in a Pack ‘N Play,” Hillis said.

In two years, Hillis says she will be eligible to reapply for her daycare license but doesn’t expect that she’ll get it back.

“My life has been hell. I’ve done everything I could to try to fight it,” Hillis said. “What I was put on earth to do is take care of children.”



Department of Human Services on Safe Sleep

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