Parents for Safe Child Care

Nathan Slater


Day-care owner investigated in death of baby boy

April 8, 2000

Frank Vinluan
Seattle Times Staff Writer

The owner of a Mill Creek-area day care is being investigated in the death of a 6-month-old Everett boy who died in her care last week.

Nathan Lee Slater died March 31 from a brain injury, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office said yesterday.

When the caretaker reported the baby's death, she suggested it was a case of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) said Jan Jorgensen, spokeswoman for the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office.

The caretaker was the only adult present at the home the day Nathan died, Jorgensen said.

Day Care Provider Charged With Manslaughter

By KOMO Staff & News Services

Published: Apr 27, 2000 at 1:14 PM PDT Last Updated: Aug 30, 2006 at 10:04 PM PDT

SNOHOMISH COUNTY - Day care provider Sheri Reiser showed up in court Thursday. After a judge set her trial date on charges of manslaughter, she covered her face with a towel and bolted from the courtroom, free on bail.
Reiser is accused of killing 6-month old Nathan Slater. According to court documents, she felt frustrated on the day of his death. Reiser told police she slammed Nathan against her knee because he wouldn't stop crying, and then tossed him in his crib.

Nathan died at Reiser's Mill Creek in-home day care, the place the Slaters thought their son would be safe, after a long search for a qualified and loving care giver.

"My wife checked everything out very thoroughly, and yet our baby is still gone,” Nathan's father Dale Slater said. "You follow the tips that are offered by the professionals, and we followed every one, and yet this has happened. So it is really difficult to make any kind of sense out of it."

The Slaters believe that if day cares had more state inspections, and providers had tougher licensing standards, maybe their son would be alive. Instead, they wear half circle pendants around their necks with a message to Nathan that reads, "You will always be in our hearts". They buried Nathan wearing a complete circle pendent.

Sheri Reiser will remain free on $25,000 bail until the trial. If she is found guilty, the standard sentence is 6 1/2 to 8 1/2 years.


After son's death at day care, mother calls for tougher licensing standards

Thursday, April 27, 2000

Tiny socks pop up in the laundry. Baby formula waits in the kitchen cupboard. His grin beams out from photos tacked on the walls.
But most of all, it's the unbearable ache in Tammie Slater's heart that reminds her every minute of every day that her 6-month-old son, Nathan Lee, isn't coming home. "My heart hurts right here," said Slater, 32, touching just below a tiny gold angel pinned onto her overalls. "I still walk into the house and expect to hear him babbling," she said. "Our lives will never be the same. Part of our family is gone."

Four weeks ago, Slater's husband, Dale, dropped off their healthy baby at a licensed family day care in Mill Creek. Six hours later, Nathan was dead of a subdural hematoma, a fatal brain injury that authorities say is usually caused by violent shaking. 

Speaking publicly yesterday for the first time since their son died, Slater and her husband are trying to come to grips with the gaping hole left in their lives. And they are haunted by questions about how their painstaking search for a qualified, loving caregiver could end in this nightmare. "We did everything right," said Slater, also the mother of a 6-year-old son from a previous relationship. "I can't believe this has happened. . . . We'll never get to see his first teeth or see him crawl -- he was just about to crawl, you know."

Married two years ago, she and Dale were thrilled when she became pregnant. Jacob, their son, could hardly wait to become a big brother. Nathan, a sweet-natured baby, was born Oct. 1 and soon filled their home with his belly laughs.

Tammie stayed home for four months on maternity leave from her job as a graphic artist. When she returned to work in mid-February, Dale, a carpet cleaner, decided to stay home two days a week to care for their son to limit how much time he would have to spend in child care. 

Determined to find a nurturing caregiver, Tammie got a list of licensed family day care homes from a child care referral service. She avoided day care centers because she had been frustrated at constant staff turnover when she placed her older son in such facilities. After dozens of phone calls, she narrowed it down to two homes -- Reiser's and one other -- and called parents for references.

"They said she was great -- really quiet and never raises her voice at the kids," Slater recalls. "She was very Christian and went to church every week." Reiser has two sons the same age as Slater's children and cared for only two other children part time. Slater visited twice, staying for at least an hour each time, and watched how Reiser interacted with the children. Finally, she decided Reiser was the right choice. During the six weeks Nathan was cared for by Reiser, there were no warning signs of what was to come. 

The day Nathan died, Slater arrived a bit early to pick him up and brought Jacob who wanted to see where his baby brother was staying. As she drove up to Reiser's house, Slater's heart started to race. Snohomish County Sheriff's office cruisers were parked out front. "They met me out front and said there had been an accident. That's all, just an accident. They told me to go to the hospital," Slater said. When she arrived at Stevens Hospital, her husband told her Nathan had been pronounced dead at 3:15 p.m. Then they went to say goodbye to their son. "Being a mom, you don't ever want your baby to be cold, and he was so cold," Slater said. "I picked him up and wrapped him in two warm blankets." 

Medical staff told her the baby had likely died of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, a mysterious condition where infants suddenly stop breathing.

Three days later, an autopsy and police investigation told a different story. Reiser told police she "slammed" Nathan against her knee because he wouldn't stop crying, then "tossed" him into his crib, according to charging papers. Reiser's day care license has been suspended, and her children were removed pending a Child Protective Services investigation by the state. Her lawyer, Jan Olson, did not return a request for comment yesterday.

When Slater was told that someone had inflicted her son's fatal injuries, she felt rage, anger and shock. "We went from being told there was nothing we could have done, that it was SIDS, to finding out he'd been killed."

Explaining Nathan's death to his brother Jacob was excruciating: "How do you explain this to a 6-year-old?" she said. Grasping for wisdom, she reminded Jacob of a balloon he had lost. "I said, 'Remember how I told you that balloon you lost went to heaven? Well, Nathan has gone to heaven to hold it for you.'"

At the funeral on April 8, Jacob and his family released 400 balloons in honor of their lost child. Nathan was buried with his favorite white teddy bear, his blue-and-white plaid blanket, a gold coin from his big brother, and two love notes written by Jacob.

"He was our pride and joy, along with Jacob," Slater said. "Nothing anyone does can ever bring him back." But Slater also believes that tougher licensing standards should be in place for family day cares and that the state should inspect homes more frequently. "Who's to say that more checks might not have prevented this?" Slater said.

Reiser, who was licensed to care for as many as six children, had had a day care license for three years and had had one inspection after 18 months. She was scheduled for an inspection the week following Nathan's death. No child care regulation complaints or complaints to Child Protective Services had been filed against her home, officials with the Department of Social and Health Services said.

Child care advocates agree that the state needs to improve day care standards, including requiring more training, even though Washington state ranks among the 10 best states in the country. "I agree with that mother (Slater)," said Nina Auerbach, executive director of King County's Child Care Resources, a non-profit child care referral service. "There need to be better standards. And there need to be more people checking up on those standards."

The state's day care licensing department is understaffed, Auerbach said. About 167,000 children are in day care in the state, being cared for by 7,800 family day care providers and in 2,000 child care centers. Barbara Stone, director of DSHS's division of licensing resources, said the state doesn't have the staff to increase inspections.

The state gets about 5,000 licensing and child-abuse complaints a year about day care facilities, she said. "How could we foresee that this mother (Reiser) would become so frustrated this day," Stone said. "We see them so seldom. Unless people tell us there are problems, we don't know."

But Slater said there was nothing to report until the day her baby was killed. She fingers an engraved silver half-circle with a jagged edge on a chain around her neck. Her husband wears the matching half of the circle, engraved with Nathan's name, birth date and date of death, and this message: "You will always be in our hearts. We love you. Mommy, Daddy and Jacob." Around Nathan's neck, they placed an identical silver pendant. 

Day Care Worker Pleads Guilty To Manslaughter

By KOMO Staff & News Services

Published: Sep 15, 2000 at 3:35 PM PDT Last Updated: Aug 31, 2006 at 12:11 AM PDT

EVERETT - Sheri T. Reiser, the day care operator who was arrested for shaking a 6-month-old boy so hard that blood vessels in his head burst, pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter Thursday.
Reiser, a Bothell resident, entered the plea in Snohomish County Superior Court.

Lawyers on both sides of the case agreed that she should be sentenced to 8.5 years in prison, the maximum under state guidelines. Sentencing was set for Oct. 3.

Reiser was charged after Nathan Slater died March 31 from bleeding in his brain.


Day-care owner sentenced in infant's death

EVERETT - A Mill Creek day-care owner was sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison yesterday for killing an infant in her care last year.

Sheri Reiser, 39, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of 6-month-old Nathan Slater, admitting she slammed the baby on her knee and tossed him into his crib after his cries frustrated her Oct. 1, 1999. He died a short time later.

The baby's parents, Tammie and Dale Slater, said they put their son in Reiser's care after researching the day-care center and checking references.

"She was supposed to protect him," Dale Slater said. "That was her sole responsibility. That's what we paid her to do, and she failed miserably."

Reiser, mother of two young children, apologized in court. "To Mr. and Mrs. Slater, I'm so sorry," she said. "I wish I could take that day back."

Day-Care Provider Gets 8 1/2 Years In Killing

By By KOMO Staff & News Services
Published: Oct 3, 2000 at 2:38 PM PDT Last Updated: Aug 31, 2006 at 12:18 AM PDT

SNOHOMISH COUNTY - A Bothell day-care provider who killed an infant she was entrusted to protect will spend 8 1/2 years in prison.
Cheri Reiser did the unthinkable.

In a fit of frustration over a crying baby, she slammed 6-month-old Nathan Slater against her knee and threw him in a crib Oct. 1, 1999. He died a short time later.

"What you did was horrible, hurting a little baby who trusted you," mother Tammie Slater cried before a Snohomish County judge at a sentencing hearing Tuesday.

"She was supposed to protect him. That was her sole responsibility. That's what we paid her to do and she failed miserably," said Nathan's father, Dale Slater.

As family and friends spoke of their loss, Reiser kept her head down, never looking at the Slaters. She spoke only once.

"To Mr and Mrs. Slater, I'm so sorry," she said. "I wish I could take that day back."

Reiser had a spotless record in child care. Her attorney said even she had no idea why Reiser snapped that day.

As the Slater family spoke about the anguish of losing a child, after the hearing they also shared some good news. They're expecting a baby in May.

"This next baby will never be in day care," said Tammie Slater. "There's no way."

Added Dale Slater, "We'll find creative ways to do that."


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