HUDSON — When Colleen Wolfe came out of retirement to work at her day care center, she learned the staff included a male teacher.
"I was nervous about having a male teacher," said Wolfe, owner of Sugar Plum First Class on New York Avenue. But other staffers considered Brian Michael Lane an asset "because most of these kids don't have fathers at home."
Still, Lane was never allowed to change diapers or be alone with toddlers, Wolfe said.
"We wanted to avoid innuendo."
On Thursday, sheriff's deputies arrested Lane, 29, also a children's minster at First Christian Church at Bayonet Point, after he admitted to fondling a 4-year-old boy during nap time, a sheriff's report said. Lane is charged with lewd and lascivious molestation.
The alleged abuse came to light when Sugar Plum staff caught the boy acting in a sexually inappropriate way with another child, sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin said. The boy was with another child inside a kind of makeshift tent with no clothes on.
"An indication of child abuse can be this type of behavior," Tobin said.
The school notified the boy's parents, who took him to a child psychologist. The boy told the counselor about the abuse by Lane, Tobin said. The boy also told a sheriff's detective that no other kids at the day care were abused.
"Obviously it's a possibility," Tobin said.
Lane, of 7751 Deerfoot Drive in New Port Richey, told deputies that he touched the boy once as the child described it "for less than a minute" and that he "did not know why he did this," the report said.
Sugar Plum First Class is licensed for 120 children and offers subsidized care to the working poor and to children in protective custody. Jim Farrelly, executive director of the Early Learning Coalition of Pasco and Hernando Counties, said he recently visited the center and found "a secure, clean and dedicated facility."
Farrelly said Lane had passed several required state and federal background checks. A check with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement by the St. Petersburg Times turned up no prior arrests.
The day care center director told investigators she has security cameras that feed live into her office but do not record images. She monitors them regularly and never saw anything unusual, Tobin said.
Wolfe called Lane "personable" and said the only disciplinary action in his file during his six-year tenure was a $500 fine for leaving a child unsupervised on the playground.
"If you met him, you'd like him," she said.
She sent a letter home to parents saying a report had been made against a teacher and that the teacher had been terminated after an investigation. The letter did not name Lane but assured parents of an open-door policy if they had questions or concerns.
On Friday, Wolfe was on the brink of tears as sheriff's deputies brought kids one by one into a room for questioning. She pointed out the windows and cameras in all the classrooms but said she still felt responsible despite all the safeguards.
"What else can you do?" she said. "I feel so bad for the little boy."
Wolfe said she is not making a profit from running the center, where about 70 percent of kids are subsidized by the state. Reimbursement rates have stayed the same for 12 years, and she does not turn away kids when their parents fail to pay their portion of the fee. She tapped into a federal feeding program after one child showed up for school with only a single piece of bread for lunch.
A parent who visited the center Thursday morning defended Lane.
"He is marvelous and wonderful with children," said Patricia Sacchi. "And I'm not passing judgment until I get more information."
Parent Ramonda White said she felt betrayed by Lane but stands by the school "100 percent."
"It's hard to trust people with your children," said White, whose 19-month-old son attends the center.
She wrote a letter to Lane and expressed her anger.
"I thank God it was not my son, at least for your sake," she wrote. "I hope to God you are never near another child as long as you live and breathe the air on this earth."
At the Bayonet Point church where Lane worked with elementary age children and led the music during worship, the Rev. Joseph Durmire expressed sadness over the arrest. He said Lane, who was fired as a result of the arrest, came to him two weeks ago and told him someone at the day care center had made a false allegation against him. He later told the pastor it was true. Durmire said he urged Lane to tell deputies and drove him to the Sheriff's Office.
"It was the right thing to do," he said.
Durmire said he didn't think any of the church children were abused because they were never left alone with Lane.
"There were always two or three adults around," he said. Still, he pledged to cooperate with any sheriff's investigation.
A man who said he was the boy's father said he met Lane a couple of times and he seemed "friendly and engaged" with the children. He said his son was removed from the center immediately after the allegations surfaced and is continuing with counseling.
The father, whose name the Times is withholding to protect his son's identity, promised to be involved in the case.
Times staff writer Molly Moorhead and Bay News 9 reporter Michelle Kay contributed to this report. Lisa Buie can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4604.