Government denies wrongdoing in 2012 death of Fort Bragg infant

By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: February 14, 2014

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — The U.S. government has denied wrongdoing in the 2012 death of a Fort Bragg infant.

In court filings from Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina also asked that the case be dismissed.

Rachel and Jason Degenhard, married Fort Bragg soldiers, filed the lawsuit in September, asking for $10 million over the death of their son.

Santino "Sonny" Degenhard died March 15, 2012, according to the couple's complaint, which alleges Santino was neglected by a worker at the Pope Child Development Center on Fort Bragg.

The daycare, on Armistead Street, has since changed its name to Eagle Child Development Center.

According to the complaint, video surveillance shows the worker left the infant face down on a vinyl mat in violation of state law and the daycare's policy.

A medical examiner determined Santino died of positional asphyxiation.

In the government's response, officials denied allegations of negligence, but admit that Santino was a healthy, well-developed baby.

According to court documents, the Army's Criminal Investigation Division found violations of Army regulations at the center. Investigators also substantiated a complaint that a 1-year-old left the center unattended to play nearby on the same day Santino died in the hospital.

The state revoked the center's license, but it remained open on a probationary license under the new name, state records show.

The worker who put Santino on the mat was added to a state list of people responsible for serious child neglect, the suit said.

Rachel Degenhard dropped her son off at Pope Child Development Center at 5:30 a.m. on March 9, 2012.

A daycare worker put Santino face down on the mat at 7:13 and after placing a blanket under him three minutes later, left him unattended, even though the video showed him fussing and trying to lift his head, the suit said.

At 7:24, Santino stopped moving. Two other staff members entered the room after that and looked at him but failed to approach or check on him, even though one said his position made him look like "a stuffed animal," the suit said.

The first worker picked him up at 7:32, at which point video showed he had turned blue, according to the suit. Upon noticing this, the worker attempted CPR and called 911, the suit said.

Santino was in cardiac arrest by the time emergency services arrived, the suit said. He died six days later at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, and doctors said he suffered brain injuries consistent with oxygen deprivation.

Doctors were able to revive Santino, but said his brain damage was so severe that he would remain in a vegetative state. His parents agreed to turn off his life support and donate his organs, the suit said.


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