Pine County toddler plucked from highway; provider appeared drunk

Center closed after provider was found drunk, authorities say.

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Jerrelyn Chose

An intoxicated day-care provider allowed a little girl to wander away from her home and onto a nearby highway, where she was found Wednesday afternoon walking in traffic, Pine County authorities said Thursday.

The toddler, not quite 2 years old, was spotted about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday on Hwy. 23 in Sandstone. Pine County Sheriff Robin Cole said a number of vehicles swerved to avoid the girl as she walked “right down the centerline” of the highway until an alarmed neighbor brought the child to safety and notified authorities.

Jerrylyn Chose had heard the commotion from her yard.

She said that a man in a black pickup truck began honking and used his vehicle to keep traffic, including an approaching semitrailer, away from the girl.

“I ran out of the garden to see why he was honking his horn, and a little boy brought a little girl to me, and she came running down to me, and wrapped her arms around me,” Chose said. “She thought I was somebody she knew.”

After Chose called police, according to the Sheriff’s Office, deputies searched the area and located the Building Blocks in-home day care, about a block from the highway.

There they found several other children playing in a fenced back yard where a gate was open.

A deputy confirmed that the girl was supposed to be at the day-care home, then talked to the provider and “observed alleged indications of intoxication, and performed field sobriety tests,” authorities said.

The 56-year-old woman had a blood alcohol content well above 0.08 percent, the legal limit for driving in Minnesota, Cole said.

She was not arrested, but the case has been turned over to the Pine County attorney, Cole said.

The child care operator was the only person in charge when officials arrived at the day care, said Russ Baron, interim director of Health and Human Services for the county.

State and county regulators shut down the facility, which was licensed to care for 10 children. A county child protection staff member remained at the day care until all of the parents retrieved their children.

On Thursday, the Minnesota Department of Human Services formally issued a temporary immediate suspension to the day-care owner, citing an “imminent risk of harm.”

State records show that the woman was first granted a family child care license in November 2005; it expires in August 2013. Baron said Pine County has had no previous difficulties with the day-care operation.

A person at the home answered the phone Thursday afternoon when a reporter called, then hung up.

Chose said she’s glad that an investigation of the home is underway.

So is Sandra Larson, whose 22-month-old daughter, Khloe, was at the day care center Wednesday.

Larson, 26, of Sandstone, said she arrived at the center only to see police and a social worker.

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