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Daycare Provider Arrested in Death of 20-Month-Old Bronx Boy

By  Jeanmarie Evelly and Natalie Musumeci | August 25, 2014 8:49am | Updated on August 25, 2014 4:10pm

 20-month-old Cardell Williamson died Friday, police said.
20-month-old Cardell Williamson died Friday, police said.
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BRONX — A daycare provider was charged with manslaughter after what she says was a rough round of play wrestling in which she tossed the 20-month-old child onto a hardwood floor and stepped on his stomach repeatedly, prosecutors said.

Athena Skeeter, 40, was held without bail on charges of manslaughter and endangering the welfare of a child after the death of toddler Cardell Williamson, officials said.

When she tried to revive the boy, who was known as "Michael Jackson" for loving to dance, she left him in a bathtub where hot water scalded his face, court documents said. She was cited in 2011 for not being trained in CPR or first aid, according to the city health department. 

"That's my partner," said the boy's distraught father, Carlyle Williamson, 56. "We were inseparable. Everywhere I went I took my baby with me...I was going to make sure he had a good start in life."

Williamson said he was in the process of finding another daycare provider and that when he confronted Skeeter about bruising and other injuries on the child in the past, her stories "never matched."

Police responded to Skeeter's home at 1374 College Ave., near East 170th Street, around 2:20 p.m. Friday and found the child lying on a bed having difficulty breathing, according to the NYPD.

Officers performed CPR and rushed the toddler to Bronx-Lebanon Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The Medical Examiner's Office performed an autopsy Saturday and ruled Cardell's death a homicide, according to police.

According to the criminal complaint, Skeeter told investigators that she was wrestling with Cardell and flipped him onto her bed. She then lifted the boy by one arm and one leg and threw him onto the hard wood floor.

After that, she said she stepped on his stomach three times but "didn't use full force," according to the criminal complaint.

Then she threw her son on top of Cardell and stepped on his stomach another three times, the complaint says.

Skeeter told police that "Cardell acted different after that," and that the boy threw up and couldn't walk on his own, according to the complaint.

She put the child in the bathtub and put cold water on his face, then stepped out to put a chair outside the bathroom, the court documents say.

When she turned around, Skeeter said that Cardell was "slumped over" with his head in the water, which was steaming, according to the criminal complaint.

She said the boy was unresponsive and had burns on his arm and face, the complaint said.

Skeeter is due back in court Thursday, according to the Bronx District Attorney's Office.

Williamson said Skeeter had been caring for his son for the last three to four months, watching Cardell five days a week at her house down the block while he went to his job as a landscaper.

But he was in the process of getting another caregiver after noticing bruises and other injuries on his son.

About a month ago, Skeeter told him that Cardell fell down three steps in her building, which she blamed on the boy's shoes being too tight. He said Skeeter also told him two weeks ago that Cardell slipped and fell on the kitchen floor.

"He had a knot up on top of his forehead and his eye was real puffy and he had a busted lip. At that point I had to drag it out of her and say what happened to him," Williamson said.

"Everytime I picked up my child he always had a little bruise or knot and she would say 'Oh your baby must be accident prone.' My baby is not accident prone," he added. "Her stories never matched."

Police did not have any information about prior incidents regarding the boy.

Williamson, who got full custody of Cardell two months ago, said Skeeter was recommended to him by people on the block who told him she was good with kids.

"She put on a good facade," he said.

Skeeter's address is registered with the state as a licensed daycare provider under the name Athena Cross, according to state records.

The site currently had four administrative violations dating back to Oct. 2, 2012, records show, but all have been corrected. No enforcement actions have been taken there during the last four years.

The city's health department said it has inspected the facility nine times since 2008 under a contract with the state.

Most violations were minor, but Skeeter was cited in 2011 for not being trained in CPR or first aid, according to the Health Department. No children were under her care at that time. 

Those who knew Skeeter said they were shocked to hear of the allegations against her.

"I'm so surprised. It has to be some kind of demon. That's not her," said Moussa Bamba, 44, who lives nearby.

Neighbors said Skeeter had watched many children on the block who are now adults. Charles Bransom, 28, said she practically raised him growing up.

"She took good care of me since I was a baby. She's a loving person," he said. "This is a tragedy, but she didn't have anything to do with it."