Janet Marie Kartheiser told police that her actions were “unforgivable,” that she knew she shouldn’t have left the infant on his stomach after he rolled over in a crib.
That decision by Kartheiser, then an Apple Valley home day care provider, led to the death of 3½-month-old Lucas Scott Foster in July 2014, according to second-degree manslaughter charges filed Friday in Dakota County.
Manslaughter charges were also filed Friday against Paul Richard Sandell, 46, of Hastings, in the April 2014 death of 3-month-old Gabriel John Tseplaev.
Altogether, six infants have died in Dakota County while in the care of a day care provider, a family friend or a relative since 2011. Three of those manslaughter cases involved a child care provider, and three others occurred when a family member or a friend fell asleep in the same bed with an infant, according to charges.
“These are extremely tragic incidents, and in almost every case they’re preventable,” Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said. “Not by any stretch are we calling [the deaths] intentional, but they involve negligence.”
Kartheiser and Sandell are each scheduled to appear in Dakota County District Court on May 4. Kartheiser, 63, is also charged with interfering with the scene of the death, a gross misdemeanor, for allegedly hiding evidence at her home day care.
Neither Kartheiser nor Sandell could be reached for comment Friday.
Kartheiser is the mother of actor Vincent Kartheiser of the AMC television series “Mad Men.”
Swaddled, on stomach
Lucas died July 31, 2014, two days after he was found unresponsive in a crib at Kartheiser’s home. According to the charges, Lucas and his sister had begun attending day care there that month.
Kartheiser told police she found Lucas limp and on his stomach about 25 minutes after she swaddled him in a blanket and laid him on his side in the crib.
Swaddling had been prohibited in licensed child care facilities in Minnesota until 2013, when policymakers agreed to allow it if parents and day care providers approved the practice in writing.
State regulations indicate that such an agreement becomes void when an infant is capable of rolling onto his or her stomach.
Before officers arrived, Kartheiser hid Lucas’ blankets and a quilt behind a garbage can because she knew she did not have the required paperwork, according to the charges.
She also told police she left Lucas on his stomach while he was still swaddled because she thought he had fallen asleep and she had tasks to do around the home.
According to the charges, Kartheiser described her actions as “unforgivable.”
Kartheiser’s family child care license was suspended after Lucas’ death and eventually was revoked in December 2014, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
Lucas’ death was the only one recorded in Minnesota’s licensed child care facilities in 2014, following a 2012 Star Tribune series on child care deaths that prompted tougher state safety standards.
Previously, infants had been dying in licensed child care facilities at a rate of almost one per month.
In many instances, poor supervision and lack of adherence to safe sleep practices were underlying problems in the deaths.
Asleep on the bed
Sandell was charged in connection with the death of 3-month-old Gabriel John Tseplaev on April 18, 2014.
Sandell was a friend of the infant’s mother, who left Gabriel in his care around 3 p.m. that day before she went to work.
When she returned to pick up Gabriel around 11:40 p.m., she found the baby face down with his head under a comforter and Sandell asleep next to him.
According to the charges, Sandell told police he had fed Gabriel a bottle around 3:30 p.m. before putting the infant on the bed, where they both fell asleep.
Sandell also told police that he had been taking ibuprofen and the prescription drug Gabapentin that day and that he had slept only five hours in the 36 hours prior to that afternoon.
Autopsies determined the cause of death for both infants to be positional asphyxia.
Toward safe sleep policies
These are the second and third instances of manslaughter charges involving the death of an infant in Dakota County this year. Johanna Mercedes Limpert Beeler, 49, Eagan, was charged on March 17 in connection with the 2012 death of her 2-month-old grandson while he was in her care.
Backstrom said it can take at least six to nine months to investigate these cases before criminal charges are filed.
He said he has worked closely with Dakota County Social Services to reach out to the public through forums and yearly day care training to discuss safe sleep practices. “It’s important to understand how quickly this can occur,” he said.
Two former licensed family child care providers received jail time in 2014 in Dakota County for the deaths of infants. Beverly Greenagel was sentenced to 45 days in jail after an infant died while sleeping face down on the floor on a fluffy blanket — violating multiple safe-sleep standards. Regulators found that she had too many children in her care and that she took steps to cover up the circumstances of the death. Rebecca Graupmann was sentenced to 30 days in jail after also taking steps to conceal the circumstances of the death of an infant in her care.