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Day care operator charged in death

A week after a 17-month-old boy died while in her care, the owner of the Lotta Lovin Child Care Center turned herself in to authorities Wednesday to face a manslaughter charge.

Shawana Stacy, 30, cried as she entered jail Wednesday. Her attorney, Manuel Machin, said she is devastated that Tyrese Green was forgotten for hours on Nov. 8 in the back of the center's van, and died from heat exhaustion while strapped in his safety seat.

"She has honestly not stopped crying," Machin said. "She regrets it and is extremely remorseful. This is a terrible accident, and we are sorry it happened."

Stacy has been charged with aggravated manslaughter by culpable negligence, a crime that could carry a 30-year prison sentence.

Prosecutors said they did not consider Stacy's actions accidental.

"It's a serious offense because being a caregiver is a very serious job," Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi said.

The law allows prosecutors to charge caregivers with a crime if they fail to adequately supervise a child or fail to maintain the child's safety.

Stacy was released on $5,000 bail Wednesday after agreeing to stop caring for children at her center or anywhere else. She is allowed to care for her own three children, ages 9 to 13.

Stacy, who opened the center in 1998, has never been in trouble with the law or the Department of Children and Families, her attorney said.

The day Tyrese died, two of the six workers at the child care center at Waters and N Packwood avenues didn't show up for work, Machin said. Without the usual help, Stacy had to take on extra duties.

She drove the van and picked up six children from their homes, including Tyrese, who wore a jacket that morning. When she returned, no one was available to help her unload the children, Machin said, and she overlooked Tyrese.

Afterward, she went to work preparing mashed potatoes and shredded chicken for the children's lunch, Machin said.

"It slipped her mind that the infant was left behind," Machin said.

Temperatures reached 77 degrees outside as the sun beat down on the van, its windows rolled up. Investigators have said Tyrese was discovered about 2:30 p.m., after Stacy made an afternoon run to pick up children she cares for after school. Upon returning, investigators said, one of the children told her there was a baby asleep in the back of the van.

Stacy found Tyrese unconscious in his safety seat. She called 911 and performed CPR, but it was too late.

Day care centers are required by law to have two caregivers supervise the unloading of children from a van. Stacy has said she did it alone that morning.

County records show inspectors have repeatedly cited Lotta Lovin for failing to provide adequate supervision, although conditions generally improved on followup visits. The center was twice cited for failing to keep an accurate count of children, records show.

Those citations were noted by county officials in obtaining a court injunction last week closing Lotta Lovin until the investigations into Tyrese's death are concluded.

Machin said Wednesday that prosecutors should reduce the charge to culpable negligence, a lesser offense that carries a shorter potential prison term as punishment.

"I think they are trying to be fair to the defendant, but they are also sending a message to the public that you have to use extreme caution when handling a child," Machin said.

Tampa police Detective Jackie Keene agrees the child care owner was overwhelmed, but thinks she should be held accountable.

"I think she's a decent human being who just made a really bad mistake," Keene said. "Unfortunately, a child had to die, and she has to answer for that."