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Cause of Death Still Unknown for Baby Boy Who Died at Unlicensed Day Care

By  Danielle Tcholakian and Murray Weiss | July 14, 2015 4:21pm | Updated on July 14, 2015 5:20pm

 Maryellen Strautmanis started the unlicensed Soho Child Care in her 69 Greene Street loft in 2001.
Maryellen Strautmanis started the unlicensed Soho Child Care in her 69 Greene Street loft in 2001.
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SoHo Child Care Inc. and DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

SOHO — More tests are needed to determine how a 3-month-old boy died Monday in an unlicensed day care center, the city's medical examiner said.

An autopsy was conducted Tuesday to determine the cause of death for Karl Towndrow, who died on his first day at SoHo Child Care Inc., an unlicensed day care center run by Maryellen Strautmanis out of her loft at 69 Greene St., according to police. But the cause of death remained unclear, pending more tests, officials said.

Strautmanis, who officials said ran the facility without a license for the past 14 years, had her business shut down by police following the death, police said.

At this point, investigators don't believe there was any criminality involved in Karl's death. However, Strautmanis could, at minimum, face a charge for operating the day care without a proper license, sources said. And she could face more serious charges depending on the medical examiner's findings, sources said.


Strautmanis regularly cared for up to 15 children between the ages of 3 months and 3 years old.

Sources said Karl's mother, who works nearby, dropped the boy off for his first day at day care on Monday morning, telling Strautmanis to feed him at 10:30 a.m. from a bottle of breastmilk that she left.

Karl's mom told Strautmanis that the child might be fussy, and added that she'd be back at 12:30 p.m. to breastfeed him, sources said.

Strautmanis told police she played with Karl intermittently throughout the morning on a mat on the floor, and in a vibrating baby chair, and that he appeared normal. At 10:30 a.m., she said, she fed him two ounces of milk from the bottle Karl's mother left, then tried to burp him and put him to sleep.

She said that Karl was extremely fussy and refused to sleep, as his mother had warned he would be, but he didn't cry or appear to be in pain.

Strautmanis told investigators that she "laid the child down" on his back in a bassinet on a couch at 11:45 a.m., sources said.

She told police she turned her attention to playing with the other kids, but said she could hear Karl quietly making normal baby noises until 11:55 a.m., when she noticed he had fallen quiet. She told police she assumed he had gone to sleep, and did not check on him until 15 minutes later.

City regulations require day care workers to check on sleeping infants every 15 minutes.

Sources said Strautmanis told police she went to wake Karl at 12:10 p.m. in anticipation of his mother's return, but found he wasn't breathing and his lips were blue.

Police said Strautmanis told them she immediately picked him up and began performing CPR while shouting for her "coworkers" to dial 911. Sources said she had never been accredited in CPR training.

She told police her daughter handed her the telephone, which she put on speakerphone so she could follow directions from the emergency operator and continue to try to perform CPR on the baby.

She told investigators that she has four employees, but she added that none of them are trained in CPR, sources said. The identities of the employees or whether they were related to her was not immediately clear.

Strautmanis told police she lives in the apartment with her husband, three children and mother-in-law, all of whom were present when the tragedy occurred, sources said.

NYPD officers arrived at about 12:13 p.m., police said, and continued to perform CPR on Karl until emergency medical service workers arrived and took over.

EMS took Karl, who police said was still unconscious, to Lenox Hill Healthplex — recently renamed Lenox Health Greenwich Village — at the former site of St. Vincent's Hospital.

A spokeswoman for Lenox Hill said the Greenwich Village location, which is the city's first free-standing emergency room and not a full hospital, does not have specific pediatric care facilities, but said the emergency doctors are equipped to care for infants and children.

"Specialized equipment designed to care for children of any size, including premature infants, is available at all times," said spokeswoman Barbara Osborn. "All staff are trained in pediatric and neonatal life support."

FDNY spokesman Frank Dwyer said Healthplex "was the appropriate and first recommended hospital for a pediatric patient in cardiac arrest."

The infant was pronounced dead at the hospital at 1:35 p.m., police said.

Sources said two doctors at Lenox Health said Karl appeared to have been healthy before his death, had no visible bruises or signs of physical trauma, and they found no obstructions in his airways to explain why he stopped breathing.

Neighbors said Strautmanis had a sterling reputation and the support of a legion of loyal families.

“This is a family that’s taken care of children for 15 years and they’re dedicated and wonderful people," said neighbor Nancy Watt Rosenfeld, who added that The New York Times had profiled the business in 2005. "She has a wealth of people who are very devoted to her and the care she’s given to families and children."

According to Strautmanis' Yelp review, she opened the business "as a result of 9/11.  I found myself in the position of having to become the breadwinner in the family, due to the uncertainty and eventual closure of the company my husband worked for."

"I chose between teaching middle school or starting a family based daycare modeled after my own children's daycare experience in Canada. The rest is history. it has operated on word of mouth referrals and to this day I stay in contact with my first alumni, who are now in Middle School & High School.  I am more dedicated than ever as I see, over and over, what a great beginning school experience does to a child's confidence level and ability to succeed," she wrote.

According to court documents, Strautmanis' husband, Vincent Strautmanis, pleaded guilty in Manhattan Federal Court in 2005 to a charge of conspiracy to commit bank fraud for his role in a scheme to siphon $950,000 from JP Morgan Chase Bank, court filings show. He was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison and three years of supervised release. He was also required to make restitution payments.

Karl's death is being investigated by multiple city agencies, including the NYPD, the Manhattan District Attorney's office, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Administration for Children's Services.