The third day of the inquest into the drowning death of a two-year-old Orléans boy at an unlicensed daycare saw two pivotal witnesses take the stand on Nov. 28.
Both Wendy Lapierre, the owner of the residence and daycare site, and Cynthia McLellan, the boy’s daycare provider, said they had no idea how Jérémie Audette gained access to the daycare’s above ground pool, which was kept closed with a latch at all times.
“I don’t know how he got in,” said Lapierre during her testimony. “I really don’t. I have no idea. After the incident it’s all I thought about, and I have no clue.”
McLellan brought Jérémie to the Lapierre residence for a play date on July 28, 2012.
Later that morning, the boy was found dead in the pool.
McLellan and Lapierre’s testimony conflicted over several details, such as the number of children and child-care providers present at the Lapierre residence the day of the drowning and whether it was a spur-of-the moment get-together or an event planned for in advance.
It was estimated in court that there were 29 children playing in the backyard, which housed the above-ground pool, a small wading pool, and a number of children’s toys.
The plan was for several child care providers and their children to come to Lapierre’s residence on July 28 for a play date, a regular occurrence.
There ended up being between four and five child-care providers with about five children in their care each.
The child-care providers also brought their own children; a former client of Lapierre’s and her two children were also present.
Both McLellan and Lapierre testified they didn’t know how Jérémie found his way into the outdoor pool.
The large pool had stairs leading up to the deck, which were blocked by a gate constructed by Lapierre’s brother-in-law several days after she purchased the home.
The gate had a padlock and a latch handle, which was spring loaded to fall into place. Photos taken by the Ottawa police showed that only one screw was holding the latch to the door on the day Jérémie drowned.
Photos of the lock on the gate, which could use an additional padlock, but was spring loaded to fall into place, showed that only one screw was holding the latch to the door.
Lapierre said that to properly close the door, someone would have had to manually put the lock in place, as the missing screw meant it would not line up with the latch. The door was also not level, and would have had to be lifted to fit properly.
She said she didn’t know how long the gate had been broken, but she had been made aware that morning.
When her daughter, eight-year-old Chloe, asked to go in the pool, she either unlocked the gate or gave Chloe the key to open the lock, testified Lapierre.
She said at the point Chloe went back to the pool to go swimming, and the young girl found Jérémie in the pool.
But there was an in-and-out process at least once, as one of the children in McLellan’s care had gone to get a life-jacket while she waited for permission to swim with the older girls.
“They were supposed to wait until everybody was ready and that didn’t happen,” said McLellan. “I figured once the gate got open for swimming, one of the parents would be up there.”
Jérémie had on his swim trunks and bathing cap to play in the wading pool and McLellan last saw him sliding into the wading pool as she dressed other children in bathing suits.
She estimated it was two to three minutes later when the girls found Jérémie floating face down in the pool.
McLellan said her nine-year-old daughter Audrey was incorrect when she said McLellan was aware Jérémie was missing before he was found in the water.
Both McLellan and Lapierre said they only realized he was missing when he was found in the pool.
McLellan said she took over performing CPR so Lapierre could phone 911, but Lapierre said she took over when she thought McLellan, who is a former CPR instructor, was performing it incorrectly.
Gavin Fletcher, an investigator with the Children’s Aid Society, was present for the police interviews following Jérémie’s death.
Based on the interview with McLellan’s daughter, the CAS decided that McLellan didn’t take the necessary steps immediately after realizing she was unaware of Jérémie’s whereabouts.
“During the interview, the daughter specifically said her mom had asked her (about Jérémie’s whereabouts)... the daughter then indicated that (her mother) sat back down, which played a large role,” Fletcher said. “We believed she was aware he had gone missing and did not go looking.”
Questions surrounded the difference between licensed and unlicensed daycares, a theme sure to continue through the inquest.
Both Lapierre and McLellan operated unlicensed daycares, which meant they could each care for five children – in addition to their own.
They both agreed that they had higher earning potential with unlicensed status, and benefitted from not having to pay agency fees.
Both Lapierre and McLellan had years of experience with children and held the proper insurance to travel via vehicle and up-to-date CPR certifications. McLellan had been certified as a lifeguard as a teenager.
No criminal charges were laid following the investigation of Jérémie’s death, but Lapierre was fined under the Day Nurseries Act for having too many children at her daycare.
McLellan was ruled as a high-risk child care provider by CAS.
“Legally, we can’t shut her down,” Fletcher said. “But we would consider it high risk if she was (open).”
McLellan no longer operates a daycare, and Lapierre continues to run her daycare as an unlicensed facility. She said that four of the five children continued home care with her following the incident. She no longer uses her backyard for any daycare-related activities.
Both were asked to have no contact with the Audette family, but McLellan said Melanie Audette, Jérémie’s mother, showed up on her doorstep on Christmas Eve, 2010, to say she hoped she had a good Christmas – and she had just come from the cemetary.
The Audette family was vocal in pushing for the coroner’s inquest into Jérémie’s death.