Parents for Safe Child Care

Jesse Hunt

Infant Autopsy Finds Brain Swelling

Monday, January 17, 1994
Seattle Times Staff: Seattle Times News Services
Pacific Northwest

An autopsy on 7-month-old Andrew Jesse Hunt, of Tacoma, yesterday determined the preliminary cause of death was diminished oxygen to the brain and brain swelling, the Pierce County medical examiner's office said. Tests for diseases could take up to two weeks.

The baby died at Mary Bridge Children's Hospital Friday, the day after he was brought in by his mother, Michelle Hunt.

The boy's mother had just returned to school. Four days ago, she began taking the baby to Puffin Daycare in the home of Edith Goetz.

While he was fine for most of the day, the baby appeared to have difficulty breathing, as though he suffered from asthma, Goetz said. Hunt became concerned when she picked up her son and took him to a hospital.

Infant's Death Ruled Accidental

Tuesday, January 18, 1994
Seattle Times Staff: Seattle Times News Services
Pacific Northwest

TACOMA - The death of a 7-month-old Tacoma boy in a day-care center was accidental, says the Pierce County medical examiner's office. "There's nothing to indicate the child died of shaken-baby syndrome or any type of abuse," medical investigator John DeSoto said yesterday. "We believe what happened is the child was on the couch sleeping, and he became wedged in the crease in the back of the couch."

Andrew Jesse Hunt died Friday from oxygen starvation and brain swelling as a result of breathing difficulties. Further tests are pending. DeSoto said the day care has "a sterling reputation. It was just an unfortunate accident."

Pneumonia Blamed In Death 

Sunday, January 23, 1994
Seattle Times Staff: Seattle Times News Services
Pacific Northwest

TACOMA - An 8-month-old boy who died after falling ill at a Tacoma day-care center was suffering from pneumonia, the Pierce County medical examiner says.

Andrew Jesse Hunt's death Jan. 14 was an accident, Medical Examiner Emmanuel Lacsina said Friday. The boy already had pneumonia when his mother, Michelle Hunt, brought him to Puffin Daycare on Jan. 13. Someone at the day-care center placed the infant face down on a couch, which made it difficult for him to breath, Lacsina said.

Hunt has said she doesn't believe day-care owners did anything wrong in caring for the baby.

Mother Gives Poignant Plea For Tighter Day-Care Rules

Friday, February 17, 1995
By Jonathan Martin, Duff Wilson

OLYMPIA - Clutching a framed picture of her son and fighting back tears, Michelle Hunt told legislators she found 7-month-old Jesse one day last year, his lips blue, his head covered by a blanket, face down on a couch at a state-approved day care.

Hunt wanted to tell the House Child and Family Services Committee why it should tighten up on day-care licensing. She said her son would be alive today if a day-care license could be revoked for a series of abuse complaints, even if no complaints were proved beyond a reasonable doubt. At the very least, Hunt said, she should have been told about the complaints.

Jesse Hunt died in a hospital the day after his mother found him on the couch at Puffin Day Care in Tacoma. The official cause of death was listed as pneumonia. But a prominent child-abuse expert who examined the autopsy results suggested the death could well have been the result of Jesse being shaken.

At least seven complaints were filed against Puffin Day Care from 1991 to 1993. None was sustained. Hunt wasn't told about any of the complaints, though, when a state-subsidized nonprofit agency recommended it as a good place to leave her son.

"Shouldn't I have known about this (before enrolling Jesse)?" Hunt asked the committee.

Edith Goetz, operator of the day-care center, said in an interview yesterday that Jesse, who had been attending the center for only three days, died of natural causes. As the result of the investigation and the subsequent loss of her license, Goetz said she has lost her source of income and her home, and her husband has left her.

"Child abuse is the witch hunt of the '90s," Goetz said. "You can be a perfectly normal person and have it all torn apart." After an investigation by Tacoma Police, the Pierce County prosecutor's office dropped misdemeanor neglect charges against a teenage family member in the Goetz home who was suspected of mistreating Jesse. The prosecutor cited a lack of evidence. With this and other cases showing problems in the state licensing procedure, though, the Department of Social and Health Services is pressing legislation to tighten licensing at day cares and foster homes.

The department has come under fire for several other cases where children were left in the care of licensed facilities that had a pattern of complaints against them. Four children died of sudden infant death syndrome in a Seattle foster home that had more than 20 complaints against it; two girls were allegedly raped by a single-parent foster father in Wenatchee who had been the subject of several complaints; and a number of boys were sexually abused by other boys at an Olympia group home.

Each case has resulted in discipline against DSHS staffers. And DSHS Secretary Jean Soliz has made the teeth-in-licensing bill and increased funding the priorities of her department, the state's largest, in the current legislative session. A record of the seven abuse complaints against Puffin Day Care was outlined in Tacoma Police reports. They included charges of physical abuse against other babies in the day care at the hands of the teenage family member. One report said Goetz had to take a baby away from the teenager to "possibly prevent any physical damage."

According to reports, the teenager was left to handle the children on Jan. 14, 1994, the day Jesse was found barely breathing. There was adult supervision in the house, but the detective who handled the case said it was inadequate.

Jesse's death was officially ruled "undetermined," and the coroner suggested pneumonia, which Goetz said cleared her of wrongdoing. During an investigation, Tacoma Police Detective Jim Callaway requested an analysis of the report by Dr. Kenneth Feldman, a pediatrician and child-abuse specialist at Children's Hospital & Medical Center in Seattle.

Feldman's report concludes that the death was suspicious. Jesse's brain was swollen, and there was blood behind his eyes, signs of being shaken to death. But other signs usually evident in shaking deaths, including cranial hemorrhages, were absent.

It is difficult to tell the difference between natural death, such as SIDS, and a death from shaking the baby, Feldman wrote. "Although I am concerned that the child may have died as the result of foul play, there is insufficient evidence to rule out innocent causes of death," he wrote.

Carol Clarke, who oversees day-care inspections in the Tacoma area, said the average caseload for her inspectors is about 200. She said cases like Hunt's may happen because of the understaffing. Clarke could not comment on the specific case.

She noted that the DSHS closed Puffin immediately after Jesse's death, even though it was officially listed as a natural death. Another complaint was filed against Puffin in February 1994, and the department revoked the license for good.

Goetz's inspector, Debbie Brown, would not comment yesterday. Hunt, who vows to be a public advocate for day-care safety, has hired an attorney to consider suing the DSHS.

"My son," she said, "fell through the cracks in the system."

State Settles In Baby's Death

Thursday, May 7, 1998
Seattle Times
South Sound Briefly

TACOMA - The state will pay $685,832 to settle a lawsuit that alleged it failed to investigate complaints of child abuse at a Tacoma day-care center where an 8-month-old child died.

Andrew Jesse Hunt died at the state-licensed Puffin Day Care on Jan. 14, 1994.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Andrew's estate, contended the state made no significant effort to investigate eight child-abuse complaints made to state Child Protective Services from June 1991 to November 1993.

Instead, the state continued to license the day-care center and even allowed it to expand, the plaintiffs' lawyers said.

"This was a clear case of negligence by DSHS workers responsible for licensing and investigating complaints of abuse," said Jack Connelly Jr., the lawyer for the plaintiffs.

DSHS spokeswoman Kathy Spears said she was unaware of the settlement and could not comment on it.

According to the lawsuit, Andrew was in apparent good health when his mother, Michelle Hunt, took him to the day-care center the morning of the day he died. However, he was blue in the face and barely breathing when Hunt arrived to pick him up about 3:15 p.m.

Efforts to revive the boy were unsuccessful.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Frederick B. Hayes approved the settlement Friday.  

Parents for Safe Child Care is a 501(c)(3) non-profit