TAMPA — Little Messiah Davis, 19 months old, liked to listen to Baby Shark and watch the monster-truck cartoon Blaze.
But Messiah’s young life was cut short after he choked on hamburger meat while in the custody of child care workers who reacted by making all the wrong moves, according a lawsuit.
Felicia Davis, the boy’s mother, has filed a wrongful death action against Kiddie Kollege Hyde Park and two employees in connection with the Jan. 29 incident. The boy was taken to Tampa General Hospital and died four days later.
The lawsuit raises questions about the actions of Kiddie Kollege staff and why Messiah and other children between 1 and 2 were fed ground hamburger meat in the first place.
“My child Messiah died as a result of choking on hamburger crumbles,” Davis said in Facebook post after her son’s death. "Single moms have tough choices to make about daycare — but this is definitely not the place for your child.
People answering the phones at Kiddie Kollege said there would no immediate comment from the owners, identified in state business records as Keith and Vicki Andrews of north Tampa. The Andrews could not be reached for comment.
Messiah was being cared for in a center at 4350 S Manhattan Ave, according to the lawsuit — the address of Kiddie Kollege Baby World. Another address is listed for Kiddie Kollege Hyde Park, the defendant in the suit, at an adjacent building — at 4319 W Fair Oaks Ave.
The private pre-school and child care center has been in business for almost 30 years, according to its website.
When Messiah began choking the morning of Jan. 29, a child care staffer patted him on the back then passed him off to a co-worker, the lawsuit says. The co-worker flipped him over her arm to pat his back and tried to get him to drink water, the lawsuit says.
A third employee also was present, the lawsuit says, but did not intervene and instead “casually exited the room carrying groceries from the refrigerator.” The account of the third worker’s actions comes from a video recording made by a Kiddie Kollege surveillance camera, Angela E. Rodante, an attorney for Felicia Davis, told the Times.
Neither of the first two workers called 911, according to the lawsuit, but a 911 call was placed from Kiddie Kollege at 10:30 a.m., the lawsuit says. The caller “wrongfully described” the incident to an emergency operator so the operator provided instructions on helping a child having a seizure rather than a child who was choking, the lawsuit says.
The cause of death was a lack of oxygen to the brain following resuscitation from cardiac arrest due to choking, acccording to an autopsy obtained by the Times from the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s Office. The manner of death was ruled accidental.
The lawsuit also quotes from a state Department of Children and Families handbook for child care centers, which says “foods that are associated with young children’s choking incidents must not be served to children under 4 years of age.” The handbook gives examples that do not include hamburger meat, but does include foods such as whole hot dogs, whole grapes, cheese cubes "and any food that is of similar shape and size of the trachea/windpipe.”
“It’s certainly a tragic set of facts,” attorney Rodante said. "You put your child in someone else’s care and they never come home.”
Inspection reports of Kiddie Kollege dating to 2017 show compliance with county standards. The county has received complaints against Kiddie Kollege on three occasions, all but one deemed unprovable.
The first, in 2014, alleged that no incident report was written about a girl with a bloody nose. The determination was unprovable. In 2016, a lack of supervision and failure to comply with feeding procedures was alleged after a parent reported finding an infant with a bottle propped up. Lack of supervision was found valid, propping up a bottle unprovable.
In 2017, a complaint was filed about inappropriate discipline after someone reported seeing a teacher yank a 3-year-old by the arm. The complaint was deemed unprovable.