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3-Year-Old's Death in Daycare's Pool Caused by Negligence, Grandmother Says

By Nicholas Rizzi | July 25, 2014 1:47pm | Updated on July 28, 2014 8:58am
 Edward Harris, 3, drowned in the pool behind the Mother Byrd Daycare in Mariners Harbor, on Thursday, July 24, 2014, police said.
Edward Harris, 3, drowned in the pool behind the Mother Byrd Daycare in Mariners Harbor, on Thursday, July 24, 2014, police said.
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DNAinfo/Nicholas Rizzi

STATEN ISLAND — The grandmother of a 3-year-old boy who drowned in a pool behind a Staten Island daycare blamed the center for his death Friday.

Elizabeth Johnson-Battipaglia, whose grandson Edward Harris was found in the above-ground pool Thursday afternoon, said the Mother Byrd Daycare Center at 57 Maple Parkway gave improper care and was under-staffed.

"The pool is not supposed to be there, it's a daycare," she said. "How can you allow that there? Their negligence killed my grandson."

Johnson-Battipaglia said that there were not enough people to watch over the amount of kids the center serves. Her daughter Maria Johnson, 23, who works at the facility, was too busy watching other kids to see her son climb into the pool, she said.

"It's not the mother's fault," Johnson-Battipaglia said. "She's the only employee. She was taking care of other children."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said it was investigating the incident, but the daycare center had not been cleared to use the pool in child care service.

Home based daycare providers are not barred from having pools, but regulations apply if it's used during business hours, the spokeswoman said. It's unclear if Mother Byrd used the pool while children were present.

Calls to the daycare center for comment went unanswered Friday.

Mother Byrd has a total capacity of 12 children between the ages of six weeks and 12 years, according to the state's Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS). State rules vary the staff-to-child ratio by age, but ages six weeks to eight months require a ratio of one staff member to every four children.

It was unclear how many children and staff members were there Thursday.

It was also unclear how Edward gained access to the pool, police said. He was rushed to Richmond University Medical Center about 5:30 p.m., where he was pronounced dead, police said.

Johnson-Battipaglia said that the pool had a fence around it the height of a toddler's playpen and was easily scalable by the 3-year-old. She said the center should have installed cameras on the outside to monitor the pool at all times.

"[The owner] didn't have a camera," she said. "If she would've have a camera, they could've saved him right there. The daycare center is not safe."

OCFS regulations on pools state they must have barriers at least 48 inches high around the pool with self-closing and self-latching gates. Daycare providers also need to have OCFS permission for use of a pool and signed consent from parents of swimmers.

The OCFS declined to comment on how high Mother Byrd's fence was and if it had permission for the pool because of an ongoing investigation into Edward's death, but the center was last inspected in December 2013 and had no violations, a spokesman said.