Unlicensed day care provider pleads guilty to neglect in infant’s 2016 death
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That charge was withdrawn Thursday because LaRuffa told the court that it would have been difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt how the child suffered a serious injury.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.