Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Unlicensed Day-Care Owner Gets 3 Years in Baby's Death; She Left a Teenager in Charge of Eight Children, but the Baby Was Left Alone in a Hot Truck

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Unlicensed Day-Care Owner Gets 3 Years in Baby's Death; She Left a Teenager in Charge of Eight Children, but the Baby Was Left Alone in a Hot Truck

Article excerpt

Byline: JAMES CANNON

After lying to Jacksonville police several times in the death of a 1-year-old boy in her care, Shantel Patrice Wilcher promised to tell the baby's mother the whole truth Tuesday in court.

Wilcher, 39, was running an unlicensed day care and admitted to transporting up to eight children in her pickup truck last June without a valid driver's license. In the commotion she forgot about baby Bernard J. Davis Jr. still inside the Ford F-150 in the city's sweltering heat. The child died.

Tuesday, a judge sentenced Wilcher to three years in prison after she pleaded guilty to manslaughter last month.

During her testimony she recounted a day's worth of events, typical of any caregiver's during the summer: swimming, lunches and play time. But she said after lunch when the group arrived back at her house, Bernard's older brother began to run off. She said she chased him down while her own older teenagers helped the remaining children out of the truck. When she got back to the truck, all the doors were shut and she assumed all the children were inside her home. She never preformed a head count.

She then admitted to leaving up to seven children with her oldest teenager at her home while she ran errands in her car. The 1-year-old was left alone in the truck the entire time she was gone. She was never able to say exactly how long the child suffered, but it could have been up to 3 1/2 hours.

She was initially only charged with giving false information during a criminal investigation. She and other family members misled police in an attempt to hide the unlicensed day care. Wilcher testified the other kids were driven away before police arrived. It wasn't until March that she was charged with aggravated manslaughter of a child younger than 18 by culpable negligence.

"I am sorry I lied," Wilcher said. "I lied to hide the fact that I was running a day care. I didn't lie to cover up a death."

However, the specific details of the day's events are still a mystery even after her testimony Tuesday.

She was unable to answer for Judge Jeff Morrow how nine people, many who needed car seats, were properly buckled into a pickup, exactly how long the victim was left inside, why the child was soaked and how the child became unbuckled from his car seat and ended up on the floorboard. …

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