CLEARFIELD – A hearing was held on Wednesday for a Philipsburg charged in a child-death case.
Megan Bucha, operator of Kids Corral Daycare, is charged with involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, endangering welfare of children and recklessly endangering another person.
The first person to take the stand was Moshannon Valley Emergency Medical Services EMT William Woolworth. He testified that on Oct. 12, 2007 at around 8 a.m., he and a paramedic were called for an unresponsive pediatric patient. He said when they arrived on scene in Decatur Township the child’s caretaker ran to them with an infant. He said the infant’s arms were down and the 8-month-old appeared unconscious. Woolworth said they took the child into the ambulance and started life-support care.
Woolworth said after the paramedic checked the child’s responsiveness she said they needed a chopper. Woolworth said the child suffered a head wound. He said the caretaker at the daycare, whom he could not identify in the courtroom, told them that the child was attempting pull herself up a plastic kitchen cabinet set and fell backward. He also said the caretaker provided them with the child’s medical records and rode with them to the landing zone at the old Philipsburg Hospital landing zone to be airlifted.
Paramedic Thea Waksnunski testified to that when they arived the child was “rag-doll” limp. She said when she tapped the child’s feet in the ambulance the child was non-responsive. She said the child’s caretaker, whom she could not identify in the courtroom, was crying and upset. She said the caretaker told them that she thought the child pulled a stove on top of her.
Under cross examination the paramedic said that the caretaker helpful and responded promptly to questions. She also said the child had a large hematoma to the back of her head.
Waksnunski said the child was airlifted to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh.
Debra Koenig, licensing daycare representative from the Department of Public Welfare was the next to take the stand. She was presented with Bucha’s certificate of compliance, or license for a group home. She explained that there were three categories of daycare homes; group, center and family. She said that each one had a formula based on the ages and number of children in the home at any one time. Using that formula a childcare provider would know how many adults to have on staff at any given time.
Koenig said that she talked with Bucha shortly after the incident at Kids Corral. She said that by her (Bucha’s) own admission, she was not in compliance at the time of the incident. According to the affidavit, Bucha told investigators that her helper was running late.
Koenig sad that Bucha was cooperative during her interview for DPW.
Cpl. Svin Donaldson of the Pennsylvania State Police, Clearfield Barracks, testified that on Oct. 12, 2007 he was an investigator for the state police. He said that he was called out to investigate an injury to a child in Decatur Township. He said that during his investigation he made contact with Bucha, Children, Youth and Family Services, Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh and others.
Donaldson said that when he spoke with Bucha she was very open and cooperative. He said she gave a victim/witness statement and agreed to have her statements taped. Donaldson said she told him it was her third year of operation. He read from his report that she told him the first kids to arrive were the girl in question and her sister at about 6:50 a.m. She said that soon the other children arrived and that they were hungry. She told him that the kids were eating and some were spilling their food and that her help was running late.
Donaldson said Bucha told him that the girl had finished eating. She picked the child up from her high-chair and placed her in the middle of the floor near a toy stove. Donaldson said that she told him as she was scraping bowls she heard the girl cry. She reportedly told him she looked around and saw the girl face-down on the floor. There was a wooden stove beside her. She told Donaldson that the stove was beside her, not on top of her, and that no other kids were around. She told Donaldson that she picked her up and she went limp. She said she tried to call the child’s grandmother but no one answered. She then called 911. Donaldson said she told him that someone arrived and watched the children while she went with the ambulance to the lift zone and later drove to Pittsburgh.
Donaldson said that Bucha told him she had problems with a refrigerator in the toy set falling, so she had it bolted to the wall. She said the toy stove had never fallen before.
A death certificate placed into evidence showed that the child died on Oct. 13, 2007 due to a skull fracture/subdural hematoma due to blunt force trauma.
A report from Dr. Rachel Burger was entered into evidence as well. Burger said in her report that the injuries were not consistent with a toy falling on her, but were most likely imparted by impact and shaking. She said the infarcs the child suffered were a complication of severe traumatic brain injury.
Burger’s report was put together after tests and spending time with the child at the hospital.
A 17-page autopsy report was also entered into evidence. This report differed from Burger’s in that it said the injuries, skull fracture with subdural hemorrhage due to blunt force trauma, were accidental.
The autopsy report was put together with medical testing and the statements from Bucha.
In closing Sughrue argued that the death was accidental in nature and that the commonwealth could not have an accidental death argument and a shaken baby argument.
“The autopsy supports the conclusion that the death was accidental,” said Sughrue. “If the death was accidental, they shouldn’t be filing criminal charges.
“So they came up with another report.”
Sughrue called into question Burger’s report due to the limited time she reportedly spent with the child. Sughrue called her report “out of whack” compared to the autopsy report. Sugrue essentially asked for all charges to be dismissed.
Clearfield County District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr. answered that the commonwealth pursued the charges because 8-month-old children don’t die every day from toys falling on them.
Shaw commented on the DPW’s findings regarding their report.
“If you’re going to take care of children … you have a responsibility to meet the minimum requirements,” said Shaw.
He said the day in question was a stressful one; Bucha was on her own, kids were spilling food.
“It’s stressful,” said Shaw.
He said that one theory is that she has too many kids to take care of on her own, takes the girl away from the others and shook her.
“That’s a reasonable conclusion considering statements from the defendant,” said Shaw. “She lost it. She snapped.”
Shaw said that if the judge accepted what she said as true, that a child pulled a toy stove on top of herself, Bucha is still criminally responsible. Shaw also pointed out that the medical examiner’s report (autopsy report) was somewhat based on what Bucha reported to police.
“The commonwealth alleges she snapped,” said Shaw.
Shaw argued that the merits for the case were for a jury to decide.
Magisterial District Judge James Hawkins bound all charges over to the next level of court.