An Eagan woman pleaded guilty Monday to felony manslaughter in connection with the August 2011 death of an infant in her overcrowded home day care.
Beverly Greenagel, 66, could spend as much as a month in jail under Monday’s plea agreement, which came one week before the case was slated for a jury trial.
Greenagel was the sole licensed child-care provider at her house in Eagan on the day 3-month-old Dane Ableidinger died while napping in a bedroom. Investigators concluded that he had been lying face down on a fluffy blanket on the floor — a violation of safe-sleep guidelines — and suffocated. His official cause of death is listed as “probable positional asphyxia.”
State child-care authorities would later find that Greenagel was caring for more children than allowed under child-care regulations, and that she attempted to cover up the failure of supervision and the infant’s unsafe sleep position. Court and inspection records allege that she also tried to fold and conceal the baby’s bloodstained blanket, and then coerce her underage teen helper into telling authorities that the baby had been safely in a crib on his back.
Stephanie Ableidinger, Dane’s mother, said Monday that the admission of guilt was important in her efforts to improve child-care safety in Minnesota.
“There will never be a happy ending [because] we will never get our beautiful Dane back,” she said. “However, we are hoping this guilty manslaughter plea will help us in our fight for stricter day-care legislation and scare other negligent providers.”
Greenagel was initially charged with two felonies, plus three misdemeanors related to child endangerment and concealing evidence. Sentencing will take place at the Dakota County Courthouse in Hastings on Feb. 10.
Earl Gray, Greenagel’s attorney, said she has suffered stress as the trial date neared, and was worried about a jail sentence of as much as four years if a jury found her guilty.
Experts on her behalf were scheduled to challenge the cause of death, Gray said. “I still don’t believe the child died of positional asphyxia, but you know what, I’m not the one going to prison if we lose.”
A call to the Dakota County attorney’s office was not returned. When charges were filed last year, county attorney James Backstrom said that “proper monitoring and care could have avoided this tragedy.”
Tougher rules ensued
At Monday’s hearing, there remained confusion over how many children were in Greenagel’s home on the day Dane died. She claimed it was 17, her attorney said 18, and a county prosecutor said it was 20. All three numbers represent a violation of state capacity thresholds for home day cares, which are set to ensure that providers can provide adequate supervision to all children.
Greenagel’s case was featured in one installment of a 2012 Star Tribune investigative series that examined the sharp increase in child-care deaths in Minnesota over the past five years. The state Department of Human Services has since toughened its child-care policies; the state Legislature has passed new child-care standards, and the Obama administration has issued reforms to federal child-care regulations.
Changes to state law this year included the requirement of a doctor’s note in order for providers to place children in sleep positions other than on their backs and in cribs. A state task force on child deaths recommended tighter limits on the number of children home day-care providers can watch, but that was not included in the state reforms.