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Boy's death will linger as warning to parents

You don't want to imagine it. Imagination is a vivid and powerful instrument.

Still, the picture emerges of 17-month-old Tyrese Green in a warm coat strapped into a car seat as the hours ticked by and the temperature in the van rose.

Did he cry?

Didn't some chance exist that a passer-by outside the day care center would see him back in the van, forgotten?

Some?

And what were the chances that Shawana Stacy, who owns Lotta Lovin Child Care Center, would have gotten everything right and noticed her oversight?

Apparently as long as the chances that Tyrese would be found before it was too late.

Stacy, who drove the van, was arrested Tuesday on charges of aggravated manslaughter by culpable negligence. If convicted, she could get up to 30 years in prison.

The law Stacy is accused of breaking is aimed at child abuse. But the death of Tyrese Green, horrible though it is, does not rise to child abuse.

It is an accident as much as a crime, an accident that was the result of some negligence.

Stacy was required by law to check him off on a piece of paper as being out of the van. She checked him off as off when he was not.

A second employee was required to make what the law calls a "visual sweep" of the van to make sure every child was out.

The law was designed specifically for these situations. Stacy was supposed to know about it. Only five months ago, regulators notified the operators of Hillsborough day care centers that the law was in effect.

Where was that second employee?

And what happened after the kids got off the van and everybody went inside? Did none of the adults notice that Tyrese was missing?

Stacy has said a couple employees were missing last Thursday, leaving her shorthanded.

But you'll probably conclude that Lotta Lovin was a bad day care center. It was not. Or at least there are worse in Hillsborough County.

Lotta Lovin had never been fined. It had twice been cited for having too few teachers. It was also cited once for or failing to have "'an accurate attendance (record) with times in/out for all children" _ a requirement that might have saved Tyrese Green.

I have to say this: I have sympathy for Shawana Stacy. She committed a mistake, a mistake so grave she has to answer for it. But if she was incompetent, county inspectors never found it. Couldn't she have been momentarily distracted, disorganized, as the children came out of the van? Don't children do that to adults just by being children?

Tyrese Green's death will be an exemplar now. It will be specifically applied to day care centers like Lotta Lovin, where children are picked up at home and brought back.

But it's impossible not to have his death echo through other day care centers, where this will be a reminder to be more careful, to dot the i's and cross the t's.

And the little boy's death lingers in the hearts of every parent with a child in day care. Our guilt is roused. We get uncomfortable.

Who of us checks out our child's day care centers? Really checks it?

You end up trusting the teacher, the director, because you have to put the child somewhere. Unless something terrible happened to your child, would you recognize a problem if you saw one? The teachers are earnest and polite. What else can you do?

In Hillsborough County, you can check the day care center's file at the child care licensing board.

But only a few people _ about 30 a month _ bother to check the files.

The rest of us somehow never get around to it. We have other things to do.

_ Mary Jo Melone can be reached at (813)-226-3402 or mjmelonesptimes.com

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