Weeks after a Utah day care worker was sentenced for nearly killing a toddler by placing a heavy picture frame on his playpen lid, two ex-employees told CrimeOnline of working conditions that left them overwhelmed and unprepared well before the near-fatal incident.
“Really, there is nothing we can do today that will bring justice,” Sevier County Attorney Dale Eyre reportedly said after the sentence was handed down to Country Loving Daycare employee Casey Bertelson, 28.
Bertelson was sentenced late last month to 80 days in jail and 30 days home confinement for the May 15, 2017, incident that left Kastyn Tyler Latham with permanent brain injuries. Bertelson was found guilty of using a 3-by-4 foot picture frame to contain the 22-month-old in a playpen.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, Latham was choked when his head became stuck between the picture frame and playpen. It’s not known how long the toddler went without air.
But what is known is that Latham will never be the same after the traumatic ordeal. The toddler’s mother, Shelise Musall, explained how her toddler son faces a life full of hospitals and doctors following an incident that has also shortened his life expectancy.
“Kastyn suffers with extreme brain damage. He will never eat normal, tasting all the great fruits or enjoying a candy, never run and play with his twin, may never even walk or talk. He will be poked and hurt his whole life, spending half his time with doctors and his life expectancy is to die before me. He won’t run and play with his siblings. Your negligence took that from him,” she said in court.
“But my child as I knew him is gone. I have a new child in my sweet son’s broken body who I will love with everything I have, but you killed the child I knew.”
Ill-equipped, crowded, and unorganized are a few adjectives that critics would use describe Country Loving Daycare. At sentencing, Judge Marvin Bagley called attention to the fact that Bertelson was watching 16 to 27 children on the day Latham was injured. He also found that Bertelson took steps to conceal what had happened.
To the frustration of many, the in-home business—run and owned by Bertelson’s mother—remains fully operational.
Since Bertelson’s sentencing, two former employees have reached out to tell CrimeOnline that were often overwhelmed while working at the Richfield day care.
Before working for Country Loving Daycare in August 2016, Abigail Brinda said she had never worked in child care. Brinda claimed she informed Bertelson and her mother of this during an initial interview.
“My child as I knew him is gone. I have a new child in my sweet son’s broken body who I will love with everything I have, but you killed the child I knew,” Shelise Musall, mother of injured toddler Kastyn Tyler Latham
Nevertheless, Brinda alleged that Bertelson helped with duties for several days before becoming absent—leaving her to care for at least 20 young children by herself.
“While I was there I often realized how little I knew about where things were or what to do if things went wrong. They had given me no real training, and didn’t even ensure I had my First Aid and CPR [training] before they left me with the children,” Brinda told CrimeOnline.
She said her two weeks at Country Loving Daycare were filled with confusion. She recalled coming in early on several occasions to find the home in disarray.
“Despite me coming in on occasion in the mornings, the trash was overflowing, the tables and floor were dirty, and toys were thrown about etc,” Brinda commented. “They had told me whoever worked the later shift would do all of the above, but it seemed that often did not happen.”
“It makes me sad that kids are put into these positions every day and nothing is being done to better it.”
Quincee Stewart started working at Country Loving Daycare near the end of Brinda’s employment. While Stewart was trained in CPR and First Aid, she said it wasn’t required to work there. Stewart worked at the day care for a week. She explained that Bertelson and her mother would typically leave in the morning. Stewart claimed she and Brinda would be left alone with approximately 30 children–with about half of them in diapers. When Brinda wasn’t there, Stewart was tasked with caring for 20 children by herself, Stewart said.
“We had to prepare food on a separate floor, disinfect toys, the babies and toddlers would have to nap in a separate room and we would have to run back and forth because we couldn’t leave the room for too long,” Stewart said.
CrimeOnline also spoke with Country Loving Daycare’s owner, Joyce Butcher, who denied most if not all the claims made by Brinda and Stewart, which she called “asinine.”
While the sentencing judge called attention to how many children were in the home on the day Latham nearly died, Butcher stated that she always had no more than 16 children in her home at a time.
“That is the state requirement and I always had the state requirement,” she said, adding that her grandchildren could come to the day care and it wouldn’t count towards the limit as they could walk home on their own.
Butcher also explained that if a worker is not left alone, which she said they do not need to have CPR training. She went on to say that neither Brinda nor Stewart were left on their own while they worked there.
“The person that was responsible for the accident is actually serving time right now,” Butcher said, referring to Bertelson, her daughter. “A day care is a personal decision by a parent and the parents that I have right now I’ve had for several years and they trust me.”
Butcher told CrimeOnline that she wasn’t home the day Latham was injured. She said that two helpers were present that fateful day aside for “a few minutes” when one of them took a child to school.
Alarmingly, Latham’s family alleged that a picture frame was used to contain the toddler on prior instances. The day care owner said she had no knowledge of that going on until she learned that one of her former employees presented police with pictures of it after the May 2017 ordeal.
“A day care is a personal decision by a parent and the parents that I have right now I’ve had for several years and they trust me.” — Joyce Butcher, owner of Country Loving Daycare
“I didn’t even know about the picture frame until a parent asked about the picture frame,” she said. “So I had no idea about it…all I knew is that the child stopped breathing and that she found him lying against the mesh of the playpen.”
The owner claimed they called Musall three times that day but the number provided wasn’t updated. Butcher claimed she called Musall’s live-in boyfriend and he was at the day care before the toddler was loaded into the ambulance.
The day care owner also told CrimeOnline that she has wanted to reach out to the family since the ordeal but feared that she, and her apology, would be rejected.
“I’m sympathetic to the family. I wish, every single day, that I could take it back or take it away,” Butcher said through tears.
“I love that family and just want to give her [Latham’s mother] a hug.”
In light of Latham’s situation, Musall and Keri Walker, his grandmother, are committed to changing statewide regulations that allow in-home day cares to operate without insurance. They believe if Country Loving Daycare had insurance, they wouldn’t be dealing with Latham’s mounting medical bills on their own.
“The day care still runs under conditional restrictions which will be dropped soon and go back to a normal uninsured day care…They chose not to carry insurance so I get nothing for my loss or for my child’s care,” Musall explained in court.
Butcher claimed that officials would monitor her once a week for a month then once a month for five months. She also said she hasn’t been cited for any violations during these visits.
By all accounts, Country Loving Daycare is no longer being monitored. However, Butcher said her conditional license will be in effect until she renews her license. Meanwhile, her daughter’s license was terminated and she can never work in her day care again.
Right now, Utah only requires general liability insurance if a child care center has a state contract. Though officials strongly encourage child care providers to carry liability insurance, it’s not required.
Walker and Musall have urged their state representatives to require all day cares to carry insurance but said they’ve hit a huge roadblock.
“He [Utah Representative Carl Albrecht] was trying to pass a law requiring them to, but hit a snag because they didn’t want small ones like a grandma watching her grandchildren to be required to carry it,” Walker explained.
While Latham will require extensive medical care for the rest of his life, Walker and Musall said they’ll continue to fight to get the day care shut down and for all day cares to carry insurance—hopefully sparing other families from suffering the same fate.
“He [Albrecht] told me he did get it passed that all parents must sign a form acknowledging if the daycare has it or not, but that was all.”
“It’s not enough.”
[Featured Image: Kastyn Tyler Latham/GoFundMe]