A Montgomery County child-care provider was ordered held on $250,000 bond yesterday on charges that she caused the death of a 2 1/2-year-old boy in her care by leaving him strapped in her van on a hot June day while she did her second job as a housecleaner.
Brenda Ann Epley, 33, was charged with second-degree murder, confining an unattended child and fatal child abuse in the death of Stacy Stinger, of the unit block of Linda Court in Gaithersburg. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.
Prosecutors said Epley, who ran a licensed day-care center from her home, left the toddler strapped in his safety seat in the back of her dark green Dodge Caravan van for at least an hour with only the front windows cracked open.
The temperature during that time reached 93 degrees, and the van was parked in direct sunlight, police wrote in charging documents. When emergency room doctors declared the child dead, police wrote, his body temperature was 108 degrees.
At the time of Stacy's death, Epley had already been scheduled for a state administrative hearing this month on her day-care license. Several parents had complained to county child welfare officials last fall that she had left their children unattended and did not give them enough liquids on summer days, prosecutors said.
At yesterday's bond hearing, prosecutors asked Montgomery District Court Judge Eric M. Johnson to keep Epley's bond at the $250,000 that a court commissioner had set upon her arrest Monday night or to hold her without bond.
Epley appeared on a television monitor in a closed-circuit hookup from the Montgomery County jail, sniffling and wiping her eyes with a tissue. Assistant Public Defender Amy Brennan asked the judge to reject a no-bond status, arguing that Epley has family ties in Montgomery and no criminal record beyond a minor 1993 theft charge.
Johnson kept her bond at $250,000 but told Epley that if she posted bail, she could not have contact with children younger than 12 and could not baby-sit.
"I haven't been anyway," Epley said tearfully.
The boy's parents did not attend the hearing.
Epley initially told police that she kept the child with her inside the house on June 7 while she cleaned and found him unresponsive only after a 20-minute drive to her home, police wrote in charging documents. She later said she left the child in the car for about an hour and drove home while she thought he was sleeping, police wrote. She did not open the rear vent windows or use the van's air conditioner, prosecutors said.
It wasn't until she arrived at her Maplewood Court apartment in Gaithersburg, Epley told police, that she discovered he was not breathing. Paramedics found that the boy's heart had stopped and that his skin was hot and dry, according to court documents.
Prosecutors said they will argue that Epley showed extreme recklessness in the toddler's care.
"This child was left, by this woman's own admission, for at least an hour in a dark green van with no ventilation," Deputy State's Attorney Katherine Winfree said after Epley's bond hearing.
Once the body temperature gets above 106 degrees, doctors say, the body's sweating system--its only way of cooling itself--shuts down, and the person becomes disoriented and then goes into a stupor before passing out. The body also goes into seizures. And heat stroke comes after intense muscle pain from a buildup of lactic acid and a burning sensation on the skin, said Craig Futterman, a pediatric intensive care specialist at Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children.