Un­li­censed day care provider pleads guilty to ne­glect in in­fant’s 2016 death

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARK BOWES

An un­li­censed Chesterfield County day care provider who was watch­ing 16 chil­dren when one of them went into car­diac ar­rest pleaded guilty Thurs­day to felony child ne­glect in the death of 3-month-old Peter Hitt.

In an agree­ment be­tween the pros­e­cu­tion and de­fense, Car­rie C. Per­si­chini, 53, also pleaded guilty in Chesterfield Cir­cuit Court to a sec­ond child-ne­glect count re­lated to Peter’s twin sis­ter, Ava, and a mis­de­meanor charge of op­er­at­ing a home day care with­out a state li­cense. In ex­change for her pleas, Chesterfield pros­e­cu­tor Frank

LaRuffa with­drew four ac­com­pa­ny­ing charges in­clud­ing in­vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter.

Per­si­chini was car­ing for nine chil­dren un­der age 5 and seven chil­dren un­der 12 — in­clud­ing two of her grand­chil­dren — at her home in the 4200 block of Bridge­wood Road when Peter, who lived with his par­ents in Powhatan County, went into car­diac ar­rest. He was pro­nounced dead at a hospi­tal.

It was Peter and his twin sis­ter’s sec­ond day un­der Per­si­chini’s care.

The num­ber of chil­dren at Per­si­chini’s home that day was more than three times what the law al­lows for a day care provider op­er­at­ing with­out a li­cense. Vir­ginia law re­quires home day care providers to be li­censed if they watch five or more chil­dren un­re­lated to them.

Chesterfield Cir­cuit Judge David E. John­son ac­cepted Per­si­chini’s pleas and set sen­tenc­ing for Jan. 4. The plea agree­ment does not in­clude a stip­u­lated pu­n­ish­ment agreed upon by both sides. She faces up to 11 years in prison.

Per­si­chini orig­i­nally was charged un­der a state law that went into ef­fect July 1, 2016, that in­creases the penalty for un­li­censed child care providers con­victed of crim­i­nal ne­glect in cases in which a child dies or is se­ri­ously in­jured. The felony of­fense is pun­ish­able by two to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

That charge was with­drawn Thurs­day be­cause LaRuffa told the court that it would have been dif­fi­cult to prove be­yond a rea­son­able doubt how the child suf­fered a se­ri­ous in­jury.

“That was go­ing to be the chal­lenge,” he said.

LaRuffa said the med­i­cal ex­am­iner was un­able to de­ter­mine defini­tively whether Peter died of sud­den, un­ex­pected in­fant death as­so­ci­ated with an un­safe sleep en­vi­ron­ment, or suf­fered a nat­u­ral sud­den in­fant death syn­drome death.

The pros­e­cu­tor said he con­sulted with Peter’s par­ents about with­draw­ing the more se­ri­ous charges.

“They would love her to be in prison for as long as pos­si­ble,” LaRuffa said, but they un­der­stood the lim­i­ta­tions of the case.

Per­si­chini, who said she had been babysit­ting all her life, told a Chesterfield de­tec­tive af­ter Peter’s death that she was “ex­tremely at­ten­tive and very ca­pa­ble” of watch­ing that num­ber of chil­dren by her­self, ac­cord­ing to tes­ti­mony at her pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing in May.

When the de­tec­tive ques­tioned Per­si­chini about the num­ber of chil­dren she was watch­ing, and whether that might have played a role in what hap­pened, Per­si­chini replied, “When it’s our time, it’s our time. Noth­ing would have hap­pened dif­fer­ently.”

The num­ber of chil­dren she was watch­ing did not mat­ter, she told the de­tec­tive, and the cir­cum­stances would not have changed even if she had been in the room with Peter while he was sleep­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to what Per­si­chini told po­lice, Peter and his twin sis­ter had been placed in a Pack ’n’ Play, a fold­able playpen with a re­mov­able bassinet, for a nap at 12:15 p.m. on Aug. 23, 2016. She said she sep­a­rated the twins with a rolled-up blan­ket, not­ing that a nephew of hers died at 7 months of “crib death.”

Per­si­chini said that when she checked on the in­fants about an hour later — the pre­cise time is in dis­pute — she found Peter face-down on his stom­ach with his head to his side. A blan­ket cov­ered a por­tion of his head, she told the de­tec­tive.

Per­si­chini told po­lice she tried to re­vive Peter, who was in car­diac ar­rest and cold to the touch, by ad­min­is­ter­ing CPR un­til po­lice and paramedics ar­rived. But the in­fant ap­par­ently was al­ready gone and was pro­nounced dead af­ter be­ing taken to St. Fran­cis Med­i­cal Cen­ter.

The first Chesterfield of­fi­cer to ar­rive at the scene tes­ti­fied in May that Per­si­chini was fran­tic, cry­ing and shak­ing, and try­ing to call Peter’s mother af­ter the child had been rushed to the hospi­tal.

In a sum­mary of ev­i­dence, LaRuffa said Per­si­chini handed the child to the of­fi­cer, say­ing, “Help me, please!”

Later, the of­fi­cer wrote down the names of 10 chil­dren she was watch­ing as Per­si­chini re­cited them at his re­quest, but as po­lice learned later, the num­ber was short by six.

The of­fi­cer said Per­si­chini was aware that she was re­quired to have a li­cense and that she had a li­cense two years ago but did not re­new it. But it was un­clear whether Per­si­chini meant a busi­ness li­cense or a day care li­cense.

LaRuffa told the court that the Vir­ginia Depart­ment of So­cial Ser­vices de­ter­mined that Per­si­chini was not li­censed at the time of Peter’s death, nor had she ever been li­censed.

“Never?” Judge John­son said in­cred­u­lously.

LaRuffa noted that state reg­u­la­tions for child care providers pro­hibit hav­ing in­fants sleep in a Pack ’n’ Play. They also re­quire providers to ei­ther check on in­fants ev­ery 15 min­utes or stay in the same room with them, or keep tabs on them with an elec­tronic baby mon­i­tor. Per­si­chini did none of those mea­sures.

Per­si­chini is the sec­ond home day care provider in Chesterfield to be con­victed in 2½ years in the death of a child in their care.

Lau­rie Un­der­wood was sen­tenced in March 2015 to serve eight months in jail for il­le­gally op­er­at­ing an in-home day care with­out a state li­cense af­ter Joseph Matthew Allen, 1, was fa­tally in­jured in an ac­ci­den­tal fire at her home.

Un­der­wood, who was watch­ing eight chil­dren at the time, was con­victed of the only of­fense that pros­e­cu­tors said she could be charged with at the time of the Oct. 21, 2014, in­ci­dent.

Since then, the Vir­ginia Gen­eral As­sem­bly has amended state law to re­duce the num­ber of chil­dren that a home day care provider can watch with­out a state li­cense and en­hance crim­i­nal penal­ties in cases where a child dies or is se­ri­ously in­jured in their care.


Peter Hitt was 3 months old when he died at the home of Car­rie C. Per­si­chini in Chesterfield County.


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