By Alan J. Keays/VTDigger
RUTLAND— A Rutland child care provider is facing felony manslaughter and child cruelty charges after she allegedly gave a fatal amount of a sedative found in over-the-counter antihistamines to a 6-month-old infant.
Stacey Vaillancourt, 53, pleaded not guilty Monday, March 18, in Rutland County Superior criminal court to both charges. If convicted of the offenses, Vaillancourt faces up to 25 years in prison.
Vaillancourt was arrested earlier in the day on the charges stemming from the death of Harper Rose Briar of Pittsford on Jan. 24 at a child care facility she ran out of her home on North Street in Rutland.
It was only Harper’s second day at the day care when Vaillancourt gave her a fatal amount of diphenhydramine, an “over-the-counter [sedating] antihistamine used for treatment of allergic reactions,” a police affidavit filed in the case stated.
“The state is alleging that the defendant sedated an otherwise beautiful, happy, healthy, 6-month-old to the point where that baby could not move her head and died,” Rutland County State’s Attorney Rose Kennedy said in court Monday.
“From the state’s perspective,” the prosecutor added, “that is about as serious a charge that we see in Vermont.”
About three dozen friends and family of Harper filled the courtroom Monday for Vaillancourt’s arraignment. Most wore pink T-shirts, emblazoned on the front with a red rose and on the back with an image of the infant and the words, “Justice For Harper Rose.”
Harper’s parents, Marissa Colburn and Blake Briar, declined comment following the hearing.
According to an affidavit filed by Detective Trooper Seth Richardson, police were called around 4:15 p.m. on Jan. 24 to the emergency room of Rutland Regional Medical Center where Harper was pronounced dead.
Harper had been at taken by ambulance to the medical center from Vaillancourt’s day care, the affidavit stated. The ambulance had been called to the in-home facility for a report of Harper not breathing, Richardson wrote.
Rescue workers arriving at the day care learned that Ryan Vaillancourt, Stacey Vallaincourt’s son, had tried CPR to resuscitate Harper, according to the affidavit.
Richardson wrote that in a later interview with Marissa Colburn police learned that Harper was healthy and had no known ailments, having recovered a little more than a month previously from bronchitis.
Colburn did describe her daughter as a “poor sleeper,” the detective wrote. She only slept when she was being held.
The child’s mother and father both told the detective that didn’t have any knowledge of anyone administering any medication to Harper that included diphenhydramine.
A few weeks earlier, Colburn told investigators, she first contacted Vaillancourt about Harper attending her day care. According to the affidavit, Vaillancourt at that time held a certificate from the state Department for Children and Families for a family child care home.
Colburn dropped Harper off at the facility for her first day there on Jan. 23, and later that day after picking her up recalled that her daughter seemed really tired and wasn’t as “smiley,” Richardson wrote.
The next day, Jan. 24, the detective added, Colburn reported that she again brought Harper to the day care and dropped her off as she went to complete college classes.
Later that day, the affidavit stated, when traveling back to pick up Harper, Colburn reported receiving a text from Vaillancourt telling her that the infant was sick and to go to the hospital.
Colburn said she immediately called the day care, and a rescue worker picked up the phone, telling her that her child was found not breathing and being taken to the medical center, according to the affidavit.
Vaillancourt spoke to police later on that day, Richardson wrote, telling them she checked on Harper, and the other children, throughout their naps.
When she checked on Harper, the detective wrote, she found her with her face in her blanket and the blanket containing vomit. “The defendant explained at this point she determined that Harper was not breathing,” the affidavit stated.
She then called for her son, who lived in an adjacent apartment, to administer CPR, Richardson wrote.
“The defendant made no mention of administering any substance to Harper which contained Diphenhydramine,” the affidavit stated. “The defendant made no mention of seeking consultation from a physician regarding the administration of a substance, which contained diphenhydramine.”
Vaillancourt also told them she was the sole person who provided care for Harper that day.
A final autopsy report last week from the state’s chief medical examiner’s office showed that Harper’s death was a homicide to “diphenhydramine intoxication.”
And, according to a supplemental filing Monday, Dr. Elizabeth Bundock of the chief medical examiner’s office wrote that diphenhydramine is not be used in infants without a physician order.
“The level of diphenhydramine in Harper Briar’s blood at the time of death represents more than one therapeutic dose,” the affidavit stated. “The blood concentration at time of death may represent one large administration or multiple small administrations.”
Robert McClallen, Vaillancourt’s attorney, said his client has lived in Rutland since 1982 and ran the day care for the last 25 years, until Harper’s death.
Now, he said, Vaillancourt works at a hotel in Killington. And having recently emerged from bankruptcy, the attorney said, his client lacks funds to post cash bail.
Judge Cortland Corsones agreed to release Vaillancourt after signing a $25,000 appearance bond.