CASPER, Wyo. — A parent's worst nightmare began about 3:50 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 11, for Nichole and Tom Parker.
Nichole finished her shift as a training coordinator at the westside Walmart; retrieved the couple's 3-year-old son, Aiden, at the Natrona County Child Development Center; and then drove to Sara's Child Care in the 5100 block of Vista Way for 3-month-old Tyler.
The Parkers trusted Sara Whited, who had taken care of Aiden when he was an infant, and did the same for Tyler, Nichole said.
Nichole and Tom needed child care as they juggled their work schedules to raise their young family and were able to need that service only on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Tom had said goodbye to Tyler — nicknamed TyTy — at 5:30 a.m. before going to his security supervisor job at the Wyoming Medical Center, 11 blocks from their modest house on Farnum Street.
He never saw him alive again.
Whited declined to comment for this story. She referred questions to her attorney, John Robinson, who also declined to comment.
Natrona County District Attorney Mike Blonigen initially concluded that Tyler's death was a tragic accident but not a case of criminal negligence. He said Friday that he has reopened the case about Tyler's death.
“I'm loathe to let it go,” Blonigen said. “I got some new information from the Parkers; I'm chasing that down.”
He could not guarantee that the reopened investigation will bear fruit, nor could he comment on specific details of the case.
Some of those details may be in what Nichole recounted from that day when she parked at Sara's Child Care.
She left Aiden in the car for the brief visit to pick up Tyler.
Nichole and Whited walked downstairs to a bedroom where one of Whited's assistants had placed Tyler on a mat on the floor. Nichole stood outside the bedroom when Whited walked in to wake up Tyler, who was sleeping face down.
Whited then yelled '”Nichi, what's wrong with him?'”
Nichole ran into the room.
“The side of Tyler's face was reddish-purple; his eyes were glazed; he was cold,” Nichole said.
She placed Tyler on the bed, started cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and told Whited to call 911. Whited picked up the phone in the bedroom, put it down, walked out of the room, returned and then dialed 911, Nichole said.
Time lost meaning.
“It could have been seconds,” Nichole said. “It felt like an eternity.”
The dispatcher, through Whited, told Nichole to put Tyler on the floor and resume CPR.
“I checked the airway,” she said. “He was too stiff. I couldn't get his jaw to open. His tongue was cold.”
“I remember yelling, 'When are they going to get here?' and (Whited) kept saying, 'They're on their way,' ” she said.
The ambulance arrived, and the EMTs took over performing CPR.
Meanwhile, Whited's afternoon helper got Aiden from Nichole's car and was playing with him.
The medics took Tyler to the ambulance, and Nichole spoke briefly with a police officer.
The medics asked if she had anyone who could drive her to the hospital. She didn't, and climbed into the ambulance.
Aiden “was upset that he couldn't come,” she said.
During the ride, “I remember asking if (Tyler) was breathing yet,” she said. “They said, 'No.' ”
Nichole had called Tom, who was waiting when the ambulance arrived, and the medics took Tyler to one of the emergency rooms.
“After what seemed like minutes, the doctor came out and told us they're trying everything they can, and they would work until we said, 'Stop,' ” she said.
“But he said he doesn't see it helping, because 'Tyler's gone and he's in a better place.' ”
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Nichole waited for two minutes and told Tom that she couldn't enter the room, she said. “So Tom went in and told them to stop.”
As the emergency room personnel left the room, they told the Parkers that they could go inside.
“They'd wrapped him in a blanket and let us hold him so we could say goodbye.”
“We may have stayed in there 15 to 20 minutes,” she said. “It was hard to leave. They took us to a room. We just waited there and made some phone calls.”
A Casper police detective and a Wyoming Department of Family Services worker spoke with them separately.
Nichole and Tom, through co-workers familiar with funeral homes, decided on Bustard's.
“They were amazing,” Nichole said of their making arrangements, from the obituary to the service to the DVD and the songs.
The obituary read in part, “In such a short time, you have touched so many lives. We are truly blessed to have those moments and will cherish them always. You have a piece of each of our hearts with you now; keep them safe until we are with you again in Heaven. Eternal love to you TyTy baby.”
Tyler Cruz Parker was born on June 29 and died on Oct. 11.
Three months later, Aiden played at a small table and was aware of what happened with his little brother: “He died and went to heaven.”
Nichole said she replays the events of Oct. 11 in her head every night.
And she and Tom wonder what is wrong with a child care system that seems so long on bureaucracy and so short of answers.
The work of the Department of Family Services and the Casper Police Department was “excruciatingly slow,” he said.
Phone calls weren't returned, or were returned weeks later. Tom and Nichole could not access the police or DFS reports and had to wait until the investigations ended two weeks ago to see the coroner's report.
The coroner's report said Tyler died from asphyxiation. He had been dead for two hours by the time that Nichole arrived at Sara's Child Care to pick him up.
Even worse, the Parkers were under the impression that the facility was closed during the investigation.
“I found out she was open, and I lost it,” Nichole said.
Nichole called the DFS worker, who told her that there was no cause to shut down the center because the violation was corrected.
Sara's Child Care has been licensed since 1995 and has a capacity to supervise 15 children, according to the compliance report obtained from the Casper DFS office. During that time, it has incurred 11 substantiated violations.
Three of those rule violations happened on the day Tyler died:
Capacity/supervision. “Napping children who are not within sight of the staff person must be within easy hearing distance at all times and must be checked on every few minutes.”
Infant care. “Infants shall be placed on their backs for sleeping, unless a licensed health provider signs a waiver.”
General compliance. “Children shall have their own separate bedding for nap/rest time. ... In addition to having shared portable cribs, it was determined that the portable cribs in use at the facility did not have mattresses that were secured in place and needed to be replaced.”
Sara's Child Care brought the violations into compliance, according to Stoney Busch of the Casper office of the licensing division of the Department of Family Services.
Her office only investigates violations of regulations, which is a different job than investigating the results of the violations, Busch said. Violations may or may not have consequences for children, she added.
If there are consequences, the division of Child Protective Services will investigate those, Busch said. Attempts to reach officials at CPS were unsuccessful.
DFS requires child care facilities to make the inspection forms available by the director to parents or others because they are public record, but they are not required to be publicly posted, unlike the license itself, Busch said.
That's wrong, Nichole said.
“That's what scares me for the families out there,” she said.
Sara's Child Care is still open, Nichole said, noting, “She doesn't have to tell anyone a child died in her care.”
Contact Tom Morton at 307-266-0592, or firstname.lastname@example.org.