Bethlehem Press

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Day care owner pleads in infant’s death

Tuesday, August 15, 2017 by Bernie O’Hare Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

Sharon’s Day Care owner and operator Sharon Ballek, age 61, has pleaded guilty to charges filed in connection with the April 1, 2016, death of a three-month-old infant who had been entrusted to Ballek’s care. The baby died on her first day at the now closed Lehigh Township facility.

Ballek entered her guilty plea before Judge Paula Roscioli on July 31. She admitted to both endangering the welfare of a child and reckless endangering. The charge of endangering a child is a first degree misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The reckless endangerment charge is a second degree misdemeanor, with a maximum punishment of two years in prison and a $5,000 fine. There was no agreement concerning penalty. Judge Roscioli has ordered a presentence investigation report and will sentence Ballek Sept. 15.

Ballek is represented by Allentown criminal defense attorney Gavin Holihan. She remains free on $50,000 unsecured bail.

District Attorney John Morganelli called the death a tragedy that should serve as a warning to all day care providers. He said the message is simple: “When people bring their children to a day care, they place these children in your care. When you agree to accept these children and charge a fee for your services, you are impliedly assuring that your environment will be a safe one for the children and that you will adhere to and follow all regulations promulgated by the state to insure safety.”

Grand jury testimony established that on at least three occasions on that fateful day, infant McKenna Rose Felmly was left alone and unsupervised for periods of between 25 and 30 minutes in the “back room,” a walk-in closet or nursery at an unlicensed portion of the day care.

Ballek, who cooperated with authorities, acknowledged that she did place the baby in the crib on her back, but turned her over to her stomach because the baby screamed on her back. She admitted that this sleep position was incorrect, and that there was no monitor in the back room.

Grand jurors also heard from Jean Kroboth, who had worked with Ballek since 1991. On the day in question, she said Ballek came out from the backroom and handed her the baby ,whose body was cold and lips were blue.

“She handed me a dead baby,” Kroboth said. “The baby was dead.”

Ballek herself was distraught after the incident and suffered a heart attack either that day or the next.

Two medical experts gave conflicting accounts. Dr. Rameeen Starling-Roney, who conducted the autopsy, called McKenna’s death a sudden, unexplained death in infancy. But Dr. Mark X. Cicero from Yale University said the baby should have been monitored. “[I]f a daycare provider had been watching McKenna, that provider would have noted any respiratory distress or apnea that occurred prior to McKenna’s death. This would have prevented McKenna’s death.”

The charge of endangering a child is a first degree misdemeanor, with a maximum punishment of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The reckless endangerment charge is a second degree misdemeanor,with a maximum punishment of two years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

By a 19-1 vote, the grand jury decided there was insufficient evidence to call McKenna Rose Felmly’s death a homicide.