ROGERSVILLE, Mo. — KOLR10 investigates Missouri’s unlicensed daycares, as a mourning mother speaks out for tougher regulations after she says lax licensing laws killed her baby.
Four-month-old Brynlee Jones died at an unlicensed in-home care center in Rogersville last August. KOLR10 first reached out to Mom Kaleigh Cole after Brynlee died, but Cole was not ready to talk on camera about it at the time.
As the one year anniversary of Brynlee’s death approaches, and details about the tragic day have been revealed, Cole is speaking out. This time, she’s not stopping until the right people listen.
“We all talked about how she was an angel baby, just perfect.,” Cole said. “Just happy in general, always smiling and laughing.”
The moments she spends in Brynlee’s nursery are the closest she can get to heaven and her angel for now.
“I knew some people who had previously taken their kids there,” Cole said. “My little sister actually went there. Her last day was the day before Brynlee passed.”
The chilling irony is not lost on Cole, who remembers Aug. 10, 2017 perfectly.
“She told me that Brynlee wasn’t breathing and to get there fast,” Cole said. “I jumped in my car and headed that way. I asked the surgeon if I could touch her, and he said yes. And then a couple minutes later as they were still working on her he told me sorry and that she was gone. That’s when I fell to the ground. Nothing’s been the same.”
According to the probable cause statement, a day later on Aug. 11, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services received a complaint about an infant death and illegal child care operation in Rogersville.
“It wasn’t just SIDS exactly,” Cole said. “She was found face down and she suffocated. She couldn’t roll onto her back yet. She could roll over onto her stomach but she couldn’t roll back over.”
According to Cole, Brynlee’s official cause of death was Sudden Unexpected Death of an Infant. The DHSS website does indicate that’s different than SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. SIDS is categorized as a natural death, whereas Brynlee’s cause of death implies dangerous conditions played a role.
A child care supervisor with DHSS visited the home in Rogersville where Brynlee died on an unannounced visit a few days later. The daycare operator, Cheri Beason, and her husband David answered the door.
“I went through and highlighted basically everything she would’ve been in violation of that day,” Cole said, flipping through a long, printed list of DHSS rules and regulations.
Unlicensed daycares in Missouri are legal, but only allowed to have a total of four unrelated kids at any given time. However, sign-in sheets from that day show 24 children were in the house when Brynlee died — 20 were not related. The PC Statement says Beason originally told the investigator she cared for just 12 children total.
“She later told us that she wasn’t even there, she went to Walmart,” Cole said. “So there was only one person there with all those children.”
The court documents also say Beason, who cared for kids for 10 years in Kansas, and 11 in Missouri, said her babysitting days are over.
“No I’m not,” Beason said. “This is very hard on everyone. My pain will never be what their pain is, but it was a very painful day for all of us. So please don’t contact me again.”
Beason was charged with an infraction for operating an unlicensed daycare. That’s the same charge you’d get for a traffic violation. Beason pleaded not guilty on April 17, 2018, two days after Brynlee would’ve turned one. Her family still celebrated.
“Even though she’s not here with us, she’s still worth celebrating,” Cole said.
Greene County Prosecutor Dan Patterson says harsher charges can still be filed. Per statute of limitations, the prosecutor has one year, so until Aug. 10, 2018 to file a misdemeanor, and three years to file related felony charges.
“It’s not just about Brynlee, it’s not just about me,” Cole said. “It’s about all the other kids and families that would have to go through this in the future if it’s not changed. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”
The paintings Cole chose for the nursery months before she was born, still hang months after Brynlee’s death. Their meaning is more powerful than Cole could’ve ever imagined.
“Even though she’s gone, the amount of love I have for her and I know that she had for me will never end,” she said.
A wrongful death lawsuit Cole filed against Beason, her husband, and three others associated with the daycare is expected to be settled during a hearing Tuesday morning.
As that wraps up, the fight for justice for Brynlee is just now beginning. Cole has spoken to several state lawmakers including Gov. Parson about supporting legislation that would hopefully stop other children from dying preventable daycare deaths.
The next legislative session in Missouri begins in January, meaning lawmakers have until then to get legislation ready to sponsor.