A toddler staying at a day care in east-central Minnesota was plucked from danger while she walked down the middle of the highway, and the provider was questioned by authorities, found to be drunk and was the only person in charge at the time, officials said Thursday.
Health and Human Services officials in Pine County immediately recommended and were allowed by the state to close Building Blocks in-home day care, which was responsible for 10 children and located on Ash Avenue.
The girl, not quite 2 years old, was spotted about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday on Hwy. 23 in Sandstone by a resident who saw the girl from her home's window, then ran out and removed the child from the road before notifying authorities, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Robin Cole said that numerous vehicles swerved to avoid the girl as she walked "right down the center line" of the highway until the neighbor brought the child to safety.
Cole described the provider's blood-alcohol content Wednesday as "significant" and well above 0.08 percent, the legal limit for driving in Minnesota.
Authorities have yet to reveal the identify of the girl.
The child care operator suspected of being drunk is a 56-year-old woman. She 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 records show that the woman was first granted a family child care license in November 2005 and it expires in August 2013. She is licensed for a capacity of 10 children. Baron said his county has had no previous difficulties with the day care since it opened.
A person at the day care answered the phone Thursday afternoon, then immediately hung up.
Supervision breakdowns were among the problems highlighted in a Star Tribune investigation last year that found chronic safety violations across Minnesota’s in-home daycare system. The state Legislature last month passed reforms to increase training for in-home daycare providers.
According to the Sheriff’s Office:
After being notified of the girl having been in the highway, deputies canvassed the area in search of the girl’s home and located the day care, about a block from where the child was found. Numerous children were playing in a fenced area, the gate standing open.
A deputy confirmed that the girl was being cared for there before wandering into the highway.
The deputy spoke with the provider and “observed alleged indications of intoxication and performed field sobriety tests.”
The woman was not arrested but could be charged as soon as this week, possibly with child neglect, Cole said.
A county child protection staff member remained at the day care until all of the parents retrieved their children.
Paul Walsh -- 612-673-4482