Police investigating the death of a 4-month-old girl who stopped breathing at a home day-care facility in Arlington County on Wednesday found 36 children on the premises, although the provider was licensed to care for no more than five children, according to a police affidavit filed yesterday.
The affidavit also said the provider arranged for most of those children to be absent on the day of a routine county inspection by telling their parents that her facility would be closed because she had a doctor's appointment.
Police identified the dead infant as Elizabeth Ashley Heavey and said she had been placed in a portable fold-up playpen in an office for her nap and was checked on once during a period of about 90 minutes. It was on a second visit that the provider, Hien Bui, learned that the child was not breathing, according to the affidavit written by Arlington Detective Noel Hanrahan. The baby died later at Arlington Hospital.
Hanrahan said that no monitors were found in the infants' rooms "that might alert the adults in the home to any distress."
Bui's attorney, Thomas Peter Mann, said his client runs a professional day-care facility and has spent more than $70,000 to enhance it for the children. He said Bui is devastated by the baby's death and did not do anything to cause it, and he denied that she tried to fool county inspectors.
Police said they still are conducting tests to determine the cause of death. The baby's parents could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Bui, 42, who has been licensed to provide day care at her house on North Ohio Street since 1983, had her license suspended Thursday because of the allegations that she committed a "gross violation" of county rules on the number of children allowed at home day-care facilities.
In the affidavit, police said that Bui was licensed to care for five children. But after the baby died on Wednesday, investigators counted 31 children, ranging in age from about 1 to 7, in the basement playroom area, and an additional five children, 12 months or younger, on the main level, the affidavit said. It said that Child Protective Services workers have obtained the names of more than 40 children being cared for by Bui.
The following day, officials made a routine inspection of Bui's facility, in an appointment that had been scheduled long before. According to Hanrahan's affidavit, Bui sent a letter to most of the parents, telling them that her business would be closed because she had a doctor's appointment. But when the inspectors arrived that day, they found the facility was open and five children were being cared for, Hanrahan said.
When asked what happened to the doctor's appointment, Bui told officials that it was a walk-in visit to a doctor who was to give TB shots to her and her assistants, according to the affidavit filed in Arlington Circuit Court, which sought permission to search Bui's home.
During the three-hour search Thursday night, police seized items including about 54 client day-care files and several computer disks.
Bui acknowledged caring for more children than allowed but said that she provides excellent care by using as many as five assistants and that she did not try to circumvent the county's inspection process, Mann said.
He said Bui shuts down once a year for doctor's appointments but tries to be flexible for parents and is known to take some children in even on a day she is scheduled to be closed.
The lawyer also said that investigators who counted 36 children at her home on Wednesday may have included her own sons and some neighborhood children who are not clients.
"We're talking about quality, professional day care," Mann said.
Liz Rahbun said that her daughter, who will turn 3 in August, has "thrived" under Bui's care and that she wants her to continue caring for her child.
"She clearly knew she was going over the county limit," Rahbun said. "But she had enough people on site to take care of the children. That's what's important."
Closing down Bui's operation has been a disaster for her and other parents scrambling for child care, Rahbun said.
"She's a great person," Rahbun said. "I certainly hope the county doesn't throw the book at her because she doesn't deserve it."