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Day care operator charged with manslaughter in baby's death

TAMPA — Parents regularly trusted Tina Toney Lark to take care of their children. Her home-based day care center at 9503 Woodborough Court was licensed to serve up to 10 children at a time.

But on Saturday, authorities arrested Lark, 44, and charged her with aggravated manslaughter in connection with the death of 5-month-old De'Arron Deshazier while he was in her care Aug. 1.

And an examination of Hillsborough County day care inspection records shows that her center didn't always comply with all the rules designed to safeguard children in day care facilities.

De'Arron's death was a mystery at first. He had no bruising or obvious injuries when he arrived at St. Joseph's Hospital after 7 p.m. on Aug. 1, according to a search warrant.

However, late last month a toxicology report from the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office showed De'Arron died of intoxication by the drug diphenhydramine and said the manner of death was "homicide (medicated by other person)." The baby also had obstructed airways, the documents stated.

Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine often used to treat allergic reactions and other conditions, and it is an ingredient in many over-the-counter medicines, including Benadryl, Nytol, Sominex, Advil PM, Robitussin Night Time and Sudafed PE Severe Cold.

Medical examiners explained that the concentration of the drug in De'Arron's blood indicated that the lethal dose was administered within six hours of his death. He spent 12 hours in Lark's care on Aug. 1, having been dropped off at the center at 6:50 a.m., according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

Investigators used that finding to obtain a search warrant for Lark's home on Sept. 8 and found an eight-pack of Sominex pills on the kitchen table. Two pills were missing, deputies said. The table was used as an office for Lark's business.

Interviews revealed Lark uses Sominex as a sleep aid.

Hillsborough County inspection records for Lark's day care home date back to October 2009. Since then, Lark has been found in violation of several regulations, including ones mandating that substitute caregivers have up-to-date CPR, first aid and child care certifications and that the center have a working landline telephone for emergencies.

Inspectors noted that she was in compliance in June. But the landline telephone number she provided the county after a February complaint was filed remained out of service Saturday night.

It was not clear on Saturday how long Lark had been operating a day care home.

De'Arron's parents, Akeena Sylvestre and Sharron Deshazier, could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Day care operator charged with manslaughter in baby's death 09/17/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 17, 2011 10:56pm]
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