The 2-month-old baby who was found cold and limp by his day care provider last February may have been alive at the time, and rapid action could have saved the infant's life, coroner's officials conclude in a Sacramento County sheriff's report released Friday.
But day care operator Sheila Caceres panicked when she found the baby, Avin Rominger, unresponsive in a car seat she had left him in on the second floor of her Mather home, the report says.
"Initially, she thought Avin was sleeping," the report from Detective Darin Pometta states. "However, when she went closer to him, she picked him up and he felt different; he felt limp and his head was tilted.
"When asked specifically if he was breathing, Ms. Caceres stated that she panicked and whether he was breathing or not was not really going through her head."
The report was released Friday by the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office along with a criminal complaint charging Caceres with felony child endangerment. The former operator of Sheila's Garden Daycare is also charged with a misdemeanor violation of her fire safety clearance by repeatedly allowing day care children to be on her home's second floor.
The charges stem from Caceres' failure to call 911 or render aid when she found the baby, sheriff's officials have said. Caceres was arrested Thursday night when she turned herself in at the Sacramento County jail and posted bail of $50,000.
She is due to make her first court appearance next Friday in Sacramento Superior Court.
Caceres, once honored as the county's "family child care provider of the year," lost her license after Avin's death and last month agreed to a lifetime ban on operating, working in or being present at a day care home.
She has not responded to calls for comment.
Despite Caceres' once glittering reputation as an innovative day care provider, the new documents suggest that her work and home life were fraying.
One parent told a sheriff's detective she had removed her child from Caceres' care about five weeks before Avin's death, saying the provider was "spread too thin" and had insufficient help for the number of children she was watching.
In its licensing action against her, the state Department of Social Services accused her of having sex in front of at least one child in her care and letting one child wander from the home.
Avin's mother said Friday she was relieved that legal action is finally being taken.
Rachelle Rominger, a 911 dispatcher who first learned her son was in trouble when a call for help came in from her husband, Dave, also questioned Caceres' actions in the minutes after she found Avin in difficulty.
"We think her actions are appalling," Rominger said. "She promised us as a day care provider she was going to care for our children. Whatever happened to my son that day, he died because she failed to help him."
The cause of Avin's death is listed as sudden unexpected infant death. But coroner's officials indicated in the sheriff's report that "medical intervention could have saved the baby's life."
"A child being found limp and cold does not automatically mean the child is dead as babies can heat and cool very quickly," the report quotes two pathologists from the coroner's office as concluding.
"The reports by Sheila Caceres that the baby was gurgling could be consistent with respiratory activity or consistent with post mortem purging," the report adds.
But because Caceres did not assess Avin's condition, the pathologists "could not give an opinion that the baby was alive or dead," the report states.
Detectives said Caceres gave them conflicting stories about what happened the day Avin died and eventually conceded she left the baby unattended upstairs.
She said she found him unresponsive in his car seat around 4:30 p.m., removed him from the car seat, placed him in a portable playpen, and "rubbed his back with her hand for a few minutes and then returned downstairs to attend to the other children," the sheriff's report states.
When Avin's father arrived at about 4:55 p.m. to pick him up, "she then pretended like she had just discovered Avin unresponsive and started CPR efforts," the report says.
Investigators later found a circular bloodstain on the portable crib where Caceres admitted to placing Avin after finding him in distress, the report says. Although Caceres did not call 911 at that point, telephone records show a number of calls to and from her home around the time Avin reportedly was found unresponsive.
In one conflicting time sequence, Caceres' father told his brother in a cellphone call at 4:12 p.m. that a baby had been found unresponsive in his daughter's home, according to the sheriff's report. That would mean CPR was started more than 40 minutes after Avin was found unresponsive.
At 4:20 p.m., cellphone records show that Sheila Caceres talked for six minutes about social plans with her best friend, who recalled no mention of an unresponsive baby, the report states.