An unlicensed provider in Chisago County is accused in the January death. She has denied harming the 8-month-old girl.
An unlicensed home day-care provider in Chisago County has been charged with murder in the death of an 8-month-old girl who died after allegedly suffering an injury while in the woman's care.
Salli D. Schultz, 42, of North Chisago Lakes Township, was charged Thursday with second-degree murder while committing first-degree assault in the January death of Brooke Kowarsch of Lindstrom.
Authorities say Brooke, daughter of Breanna and Kurt Kowarsch, suffered a head injury Jan. 19 while at the day care. Her health continued to worsen, and the family decided on Jan. 22 to remove her from life support. The next day, "family and close friends were involved in saying their goodbyes to Brooke," according to the criminal complaint, "followed by the parents saying their goodbyes." Brooke died four days later at Children's Hospital of St. Paul.
Schultz's attorney, Earl Gray, said Friday that she intends to plead not guilty and that she will be found innocent if the case goes to trial.
Schultz, who appeared in Chisago County Court on Friday and was released on $100,000 bail, could not be reached for comment.
She also is charged with operating the home-based day care as a non-residential, commercial enterprise without a license, a misdemeanor. She had been warned twice in 2006 by the county child-care licensor that she was breaking the law, the complaint said. State law allows an unlicensed provider to care for one unrelated family 30 times in a year. An estimated 150,000 households in the state provide legal, unlicensed child care, according the Department of Human Services.
The complaint said Schultz had been caring for five children at the time of Brooke's death. She told investigators she had been watching kids for 20 years, according to the charges.
Because of the ongoing investigation, Chisago County Attorney Janet Reiter said officials couldn't discuss whether Schultz had complied with the warning letters.
The complaint does not explain how Brooke's injury occurred, and there were no witnesses to it, Reiter said. Schultz was the only adult present at the time, and the other children there either are too young to explain what happened or did not see how Brooke was hurt, Reiter said. Schultz has denied to investigators that she harmed the girl, the complaint said.
"It will be a difficult case, but we feel we are on solid ground on the medical evidence that we feel will be borne out at trial," Reiter said.
The Minnesota attorney general's office is leading prosecution of Schultz, Reiter said, adding that this is common in complicated cases in smaller outstate communities.
According to the criminal complaint:
Kurt Kowarsch took Brooke and daughter Lauren, nearly 3 years old at the time, to Schultz's home that morning before he reported to work as a Forest Lake police officer. Breanna Kowarsch was on vacation with her in-laws.
At about 3 p.m., Schultz told authorities, she noticed "there was something about [Brooke] that just wasn't right to me. ... She wasn't looking up and focusing." Around 3:15 p.m., Schultz left Kowarsch a message, which he returned. She told him that something was wrong with Brooke and that he should get her.
Kowarsch said he could hear Brooke screaming in the background. He told Schultz to call 911, but she first called a sister-in-law at 3:22 p.m. and explained that Brooke was fussy, slumped over and not opening her eyes, the complaint said. A minute later, Kowarsch called Schultz again and said he was coming to get Brooke. Again, he heard Brooke screaming, according to the complaint.
At 3:25 p.m., Schultz again called her sister-in-law. Three minutes later, Schultz called 911 to report that Brooke was "kinda lethargic." The dispatcher asked whether an ambulance was needed, and Schultz said, "I, I don't know. I'm thinking so, to have somebody check on her. ... She's really not opening her eyes much."
An ambulance arrived at 3:37 p.m., left 15 minutes later and got to the emergency room at Fairview Lakes Regional Medical Center at 4:11 p.m. A doctor at the Wyoming, Minn., hospital found bleeding on the brain and had Brooke airlifted to Children's Hospital in St. Paul. She had two seizures en route. Two Children's doctors raised suspicions of abuse based on their examinations, the complaint said.
The Ramsey County medical examiner ruled Brooke's death a homicide.
Brooke had been in Schultz's care for about a month before her death. Schultz was recommended by Kurt Kowarsch's mother, who became good friends with her through a saddle club.
Schultz told police she didn't know of anything that might have fallen on Brooke and denied dropping the baby, even accidentally, or bumping her head, the complaint said.
Day-care providers in Minnesota are rarely found to inflict fatal or near-fatal injuries to children, according to a state Department of Human Services report released in April. Of 71 inflicted injuries to Minnesota children of this severity that a panel reviewed for the 2005-09 period, day-care providers were cited as the offender in six instances.