Just outside a Hennepin County courtroom, one of the mothers of a toddler nearly killed by his day-care provider embraced the man who saved the boy’s life.
“Thank you,” the woman said, tears in her eyes, her partner looking on. She hugged him again. “Thank you.”
“I’m just happy I was there,” the visibly moved man, Joseph Sabir, who also had a child at the same day care, told her. They were meeting for the first time.
It was one of several dramatic moments that punctuated a daylong sentencing hearing for the day-care provider, Nataliia M. Karia, 43, who pleaded guilty in February to wrapping a pair of tights around a 16-month old’s neck and hanging him from piping in the basement of her south Minneapolis house. The boy’s parents had placed him with Karia’s day care only a month before the incident.
With additional testimony yet to come from expert witnesses regarding her mental stability, the date Karia will be sentenced by Judge Jay Quam has yet to be scheduled.
Karia pleaded guilty in February to attempted murder for trying to hang the boy and then fleeing the house on Nov. 18, 2016. She has also pleaded guilty to third-degree assault and two counts of criminal vehicular operation for hitting a pedestrian with her minivan, dragging him through the street, and hitting another driver and bicyclist.
Sabir, who had placed his daughter in day care with Karia months before and lived next door, testified Wednesday that he was dropping his daughter off when Karia opened the door and said: “Call the police. Look what I have done.”
Sabir said he heard crying coming from the basement.
“Maybe if you take him down, he’ll survive,” Karia told him.
Sabir said he rushed to the basement. “I saw a little boy hanging by tights,” he said. The tights were not tightly around the boy’s neck, he said, but the boy was having trouble breathing. His skin was turning blue.
Sabir said he lifted the boy out of the noose, cradled him in his arms, took him upstairs, told his daughter to follow him, and walked back to his own house in his stocking feet.
“Something crazy is happening,” he told his wife, Lyuba Megits. She called for an ambulance and rushed back to the house, she said in separate testimony.
Karia appeared disoriented.
“She seemed to see right through me; she didn’t seem to be doing any processing,” Megits said. As first responders arrived at the house, they discovered that Karia had fled.
In a victim-impact statement, Kelly Kennedy described how she was driving when she was hit by Karia’s van on W. 28th St. and Grand Avenue. Another driver got out to check on Kennedy, and when he did, Karia’s van struck him and dragged him along the street.
In a statement read into the record by a victims’ advocate, Alcivar Salvador Lema described “being dragged by the car with the weight of the bumper pushing my chest down onto the pavement.
“I knew the streets we were passing,” he stated. “Pillsbury, Blaisdell, Nicollet. I was trying to lift up the bumper so I could breathe ... I heard people yelling. I said, ‘God may it be your will if I die or live because of this.’ ” He said she stopped at Park Avenue as others shouted.
A man moved in front of the van and Karia backed up, freeing his chest. She went forward, driving across his foot, then crashed into a bicyclist.
Lema said he has had at least five surgeries on his foot, which is in pain with 40 percent normal movement. He can work only three to four hours a day.
“We are living off our savings, and that is almost gone,” he said.
The injured child’s two mothers, who asked in court that their son not be identified, offered the final testimony through tears, saying their boy had nightmares and continuing therapy sessions. One mother said she also had nightmares for months.
The boy did not sustain any permanent physical damage, and a scan indicated no brain injury.
Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Christina Warren showed photos on a large TV screen of red marks around the boy’s neck.
Karia appeared to be shaken throughout the testimony, sometimes putting her head in her hands.
Her son, Denys Karia, 20, said his mother, who was born in Ukraine, had left an abusive marriage to marry a man here, but it was not a good relationship and there was much shouting between them.
Questioned by defense attorney Brockton Hunter, he said the week before the incident, his mother spoke of suicidal thoughts including jumping off a bridge. He said he and a family friend took her to a clinic, where a doctor told them to take her straight to a hospital emergency room.
But he said his father rejected the idea, saying all she needed was rest and she’d be fine. He said he argued with his father, who remained firm. “I felt scared,” her son said. “Something was building up that could go wrong.”
Denys Karia urged Quam to give her probation, as did Sabir and Megits, the neighbors who also had a child in Karia’s care. “I think she will get more healing to be with her children,” Megits said.
But Lema, who was dragged by her van, said, “I ask the judge to give us justice, taking into account how many people she harmed.”
Said one of the toddler’s mothers, “I would not feel comfortable simply with probation. Everyone trusted her.”