Minnesota recorded its second child care death of the year Tuesday, after a girl three weeks shy of her first birthday stopped breathing during a nap at a home day care in Fillmore County.
Gabrielle Ray Free of Lime Springs, Iowa, was at Vanessa N. Payne Family Child Care on Tuesday afternoon. She was airlifted to St. Marys Hospital in Rochester, where she died, according to the Sheriff's Office.
Foul play is not suspected, Sheriff Daryl Jensen said, and Payne's day care is still licensed to operate under state rules. Autopsy results were pending from the Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner's Office in Rochester.
John Frazer, grandfather of the girl known as Gabby, said the provider "did nothing wrong. It's just as much a tragedy for them as it is for us."
Contacted Thursday, Payne declined to comment.
Licensing records suggest that Minnesota has not entirely stamped out a pattern of violations known to place infants at risk.
A 3-month-old boy died in January at the home day care of Ann Quigley in Hastings. Her license was suspended following the Jan. 25 death; the case is under investigation by the Dakota County Sheriff's Office. Quigley had been licensed since April 2010 and had no prior complaints or correction orders, county officials said.
The infant's father, Aaron Hagen, said investigators told the family the provider had placed Alex on his stomach in a crib, which would be a violation of infant safe-sleep guidelines. The cause of death was listed as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, according to Health Department officials.
"Nothing is going to change what happened," Hagen said. "My child isn't going to come back. I'm upset. I'm angry."
In this week's case, the Minnesota Department of Human Services licensing website lists no disciplinary actions against Payne's day care, but the site does not contain complete licensing information on in-home providers. A correction order issued by county regulators in October cited Payne for having too many children in her care, a circumstance linked in national research to a higher risk of mishaps.
A Star Tribune investigation last year found that almost a death a month had occurred in Minnesota child care facilities — mostly licensed home day cares — between 2007 and 2011. Two factors the newspaper identified as recurring problems were providers who failed to follow safe-sleep practices and who operated day cares that were over capacity.
Legislation to improve safety in Minnesota child care is moving through the Legislature, including increased training requirements for home day care providers and greater authority for the state to shut down providers who violate safe-sleep guidelines.
Gabby was born to Terry Free Jr. and Nichole Free on May 15, 2012. The Frees, also have a 4-year-old daughter, Lilly, and live about 15 miles south of Le Roy.
"It's important for people to know that this day care is fantastic," said Frazer, who lives about a quarter-mile from his daughter's family near Lime Springs.
Frazer said that Lilly was spending the day with Grandma and Grandpa on Tuesday, while Gabby went to the sisters' day care as usual and their parents went to work.
"They laid [Gabby] down for a nap, and she quit breathing," Frazer said. Sheriff Jensen confirmed that account and added that his office has never been called to that address before.
The grandfather said the day care provider's family and his have been friends for years. His granddaughters have both been going there since they were babies.
"It's the day care we trust 110 percent, and other families do, too," Frazer said.
Gabby was born about a month premature but otherwise was healthy in every way, he said.
Frazer said his little granddaughter had "the happiest laugh. Her personality was coming around. ... She was probably within two weeks of walking."
Visitation for Gabby will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday at the Hindt Funeral Home in Le Roy. There will also be a visitation at 9 a.m. Saturday, with a funeral service at 10 a.m. at the Le Roy Presbyterian Church.
Star Tribune staff writers Brad Schrade and Jeremy Olson contributed to this report. Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482