Day 1 of Hudson Day care owner's trial sees five witnesses take the stand

Jessica Bridwell (Source: Angelina County Jail)
Jessica Bridwell (Source: Angelina County Jail)

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - Supporters from both sides filled Angelina County's 159th Judicial District Court as the jury trial for the Hudson day care owner accused of child endangerment got underway Wednesday morning.

Jessica Jane Bridwell, 26, of Lufkin, was charged with child endangerment after she failed to tell Taylor Sullivan and Zach Brasher that their daughter, Raegan, had fallen off of a changing table at the Wild About Kids day care and injured her head in September of 2012.

Earlier in the process, Bridwell, the owner of the day care, pleaded not guilty to the charge, and continues to claim no wrongdoing in the case.

The original indictment stated Bridwell, 26 placed Raegan Brasher in physical harm by not getting medical care for her after she had fallen from a changing table on Sept. 6, 2012. The indictment also alleges Bridwell did not take the child to an emergency provider.

Judge Paul White approved District Attorney Art Bauereiss' motion to change the wording of the document to Sept. 6 and/or Sept. 7 earlier this month.

The state shut down Wild About Kids Day Care in November after an investigation into Raegan's injuries she suffered on Sept. 6.

Taylor Sullivan said her nine-month-old baby, Raegan, fell off the table on Sept. 6. She did not learn of the fall until the next day, when one of the workers mentioned the fall to her. The report states the day care director did not contact the parents the next day when she saw a "mushy" bump on the baby's head.

Brittni Dowthitt, an employee of the daycare, is also being charged with endangering a child and injury to a child.

In his opening statements, District Attorney Art Bauereiss said Raegan was brought to the Wild About Kids day care around lunch time on Sept. 6, 2012. Dowthitt placed Raegan on a changing table, which was about three feet off the floor, and did not secure her, Bauereiss said.

At that point, Dowthitt left Raegan alone when she went to get a diaper. While she was gone, the baby girl rolled off the table. Although neither of the workers in the room saw Raegan fall, they heard a thud, Bauereiss said.

Bauereiss said Dowthitt left the room to tell Bridwell about the incident. The District Attorney stated that Bridwell stopped Dowthitt from filling out an incident report because she saw no visible signs of injury to the child.

Although Bridwell told Dowthitt to tell Raegan's father, Zach Brasher, about the fall, the day worker did not do so and instead told him the child had sim0ply fallen out of her arms, Bauereiss said. However, Bridwell didn't tell Raegan's parents about the fall either, nor did she notify the state or fill out an accident report.

The next day, Raegan started showing signs of trauma, and the worker that was in the room with Dowthitt when the fall occurred told Brasher what had actually happened Brasher said. The worker, who was known to the children as "Mimi" told him to take the child to the emergency as soon as possible.

After the initial visit to a Nacogdoches hospital, Raegan was taken to the LSU Hospital in Shreveport. Bauereiss said the state was never notified until an LSU doctor called them. He added Bridwell never filed a report until the Monday after the incident.

Bauereiss argued that as a licensed day care operator, Bridwell failed to use training or common sense in  the way she handled the incident.

Defense attorney Ryan Deaton addressed the jury by saying, "Like Paul Harvey said, 'Here's the rest of the story.'"

In his opening arguments, Deaton argued that Bridwell worked hard as the owner of the day care. In addition running the business, she also served as the cook, the cleaning lady, and the supply person. Deaton said Bridwell took care of up to 60 children a day.

Dowthitt didn't even go to the room where Bridwell was immediately after the accident, Deaton said. Instead, she went to another worker and said that the only part of the child that hit the floor was her rear end and legs. When she went to talk to Bridwell, she told her boss the same story.

Deaton argued that Dowthitt told a small lie to three different workers because she was scared about losing her job. In addition, he said that Bridwell never told her workers to be quiet about the incident. After seeing the swelling on Raegan's head, she told the workers to tell the child's parents what had happened, Deaton said.

Bridwell filed the report within 48 hours as the law requires, Deaton said.

Deaton wrapped up his opening arguments by saying the situation was unfortunate and made worse by an employee who lied to keep her job.

"My client has done nothing wrong," Deaton said.

Bridwell's trial is expected to go until Friday.

Raegan's father, Zachary Brasher, was the first witness to take the stand. Brasher said he was the parent that would take and pick up Raegan from the daycare.

"I would get here there around 7:30 in the morning," said Brasher. "I would talk to the teacher about what she needed for the day."

Bauereiss asked Brasher what would be done if something happened to their child and Brasher answered that they would be notified.

Brasher said he got to the day care between 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Sept.6. Brasher said when he got there he talked to Bridwell and she had Raegan.

"She told me that Raegan had an accident," said Brasher. "She told me that Brittni was changing her diaper and Raegan started squirming around like she does at that age. She lost her grip on Raegan and she fell on her butt. (Bridwell) told me to watch her, but I didn't think anything of it because she fell on her butt."

Brasher said he was never asked to sign any paperwork on the incident and he took Raegan and they went home.

Brasher said Raegan started to act weird.

"She just sat there and didn't want to do anything," said Brasher. "I texted Taylor at school and said Raegan's not acting right."

Brasher said she wasn't acting right on Friday morning and he thought she might be getting sick.

"She's always active and smiling, but she wasn't doing any of that," said Brasher.

Brasher said he took her that morning to day care and was told nothing new. Brasher said he learned the truth when he went to pick her up.

"Mimi told me she was dropped on her head," said Brasher. "I was mad."

Brasher said he went home and told Sullivan and they took her to a Nacogdoches hospital.

"They did a normal checkup and the doctor said she seemed OK but they wanted to do a CAT Scan," said Brasher. "That's when they found a fracture."

Brasher said he became worried when doctors told him that Raegan would have to be taken to the LSU medical center in Shreveport, La.

Raegan's doctor, Madupe Sokunbi, was the next to take the stand.

Sokunbi says that she saw Raegan shortly after the fall.

"I saw here for a follow-up to her being released from the LSU ICU for head trauma," said Sokunbi.

Sokunbi said that Raegan was suffering from a fracture and a subdural hematoma. The hematoma happens when blood gathers on the outermost layer of brain matter that adheres to the skull.

"With subdural hematoma there is always a chance for morbidity," said Sokunbi.

Sokunbi said that from here medical understanding that the earlier an injury is treated the better the outcome. Sokunbi added that when she saw the child on Sept. 17 that there was still swelling.

Deaton started his questioning about the state of Raegan's health. Sokunbi said that the child was able to keep her balance, she had no headaches, she was not vomiting and was not numb. Sokunbi said she did say she needed to see a neurologist because of the way Raegan would sometimes act lethargic during the day.

Deaton asked Sokunbi about how soon swelling should show up.

"With some of my patients, I have seen swelling immediately and sometimes several hours later," said Sokunbi.

Brasher was then brought back in to continue testimony.

Deaton asked why he picked the Wild About Kids daycare.

Brasher said he liked the new facility and that it seemed like a good place.

Brasher recalled the conversation with Bridwell the day of the accident.

"It wasn't unusual that Jessica was carrying Raegan," said Brasher. "It was unusual that she wanted to talk to me."

Brasher agreed that Bridwell said the baby was dropped but the head was not hurt. Brasher said he did not think he was being lied to at that point.

Brasher agreed that he didn't think the symptoms he saw at home were not with the fall.

"I didn't think anything of it because her butt hit the floor," said Brasher. "I was told her head was nowhere close to hitting."

Brasher said he didn't tell the workers anything the next day because Raegan started acting a little better.

Deaton asked if Brasher saw swelling.

"No, not that I noticed," said Brasher. "I didn't pay attention."

Brasher agreed with Deaton that it seemed a little strange that he didn't see swelling until 20 hours later.

After Brasher finished his testimony, Raegan's mother, Taylor Sullivan, was called to the stand.

Sullivan said that both she and Brasher were involved in the decision to place Raegan in the Wild About Kids Day Care. Sullivan told Bauereiss that she remembers letting the daycare know emergency contact information.

"I remember on the papers when I enrolled her I put her doctor's name as well as mine and Zach's cell phone number," Sullivan said.

Sullivan then recalled the evening of the incident.

"She was learning how to walk," Sullivan said. "She was learning how to walk, so she falls on her butt several times a day, and she was acting fine so I thought she was OK. When I got back from my night class, she seemed out of it."

"The next day she was acting normal," Sullivan said. "That's why we let her go to day care that day."

Bauereiss next puts a picture of Raegan's head on a projection screen and asked Sullivan to point out the swelling.

"It went from the middle of her head all the way to her eyebrow," Sullivan said.

Sullivan said that after the CAT scan at the hospital, she rode with a friend to Shreveport, where the ambulance was taking Raegan.

Sullivan said Raegan was able to be discharged on Sept.9 from the hospital and had to take medicine in case there were seizures. Once she got back to Lufkin, Sullivan asked Bridwell for a phone number for Dowthitt.

"I wanted to know how far she fell," Sullivan said.

Sullivan said that the conversations with Bridwell and Dowthitt were through text messages.

"In the messages, (Bridwell) said, 'Sorry, as the director I should have called," Sullivan said.

"She texted me twice, saying they are praying for Raegan and they are sorry," Sullivan said.

Sullivan said that the first time she heard about the changing table story was in the text messages.

"In a nice way, it made me really upset," Sullivan said.

In the text message exchanges, Sullivan texted Bridwell and asked how serious she thought a baby falling four feet onto a concrete floor is.

Bridwell responded with a text saying she thought it was very serious, and that it was the reason she let Dowthitt go.

Bridwell also sent another message saying that she was sorry and should have called as soon as it happened and that if it were her child she would be angry as well.

The fourth witness of the day was Brittni Dowthitt.

Dowthitt gave up her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and said there are no under the table deals for her to testify against her former employer.

Dowthitt recalled Raegan being at the day care the day of Sept.6.

"I was at the changing table with Raegan," Dowthitt said. "I reached around the door to grab a diaper out of the changing closet, and Raegan fell on the floor."

Dowthitt said even though she knew the rules, she didn't fasten the straps used to secure an infant to the table.

"You were supposed to have your hand or strap on them at all times," Dowthitt said.

Dowthitt said she first realized Raegan was falling when she heard her co-worker, Shamita Walker (Mimi), say Raegan was falling. Dowthitt said it didn't take long for her to find Bridwell and tell her about the incident.

"Bridwell told me to keep Raegan up until the parents got there," Dowthitt said.

Dowthitt then said that she went to her room and wrote up an injury report, but Bridwell told her to throw it away because there was no visible injury.

"I thought it was odd because we were always told to write up an injury report," Dowthitt said.

Dowthitt said even though Bridwelll told her to tell the parents, Bridwell came back to her and told her to go home, and she would talk to the parents.

Later, Dowthitt recalled the next day.

"I saw the bump," Dowthitt said. "I said, 'Uh oh, that doesn't look good.' I told Mini to go and tell Jessica."

After she noticed the swelling on Raegan's head, Dowthitt said she did nothing to notify the parents. Dowthitt said she never filled out a second report at that time and was never able to.

Dowthitt said she was told to leave after lunch.

"When I left, I thought I still had a job; not just a full-time job," Dowthitt said. "I heard from Jessica on Saturday. She told me to come in on Monday and make a statement."

Dowthitt told the court that she felt terrible and never meant for a child to be hurt.

Dowthitt then told Deaton that she was never told she had to use the straps.

She told Deaton that while changing Raegan, she had one hand on Raegan and reached around a door to get a diaper.

She said Deaton was wrong for saying that what she did was impossible.

Dowthitt said that Raegan's father seemed to be normal when he brought Raegan to the day care on Friday morning.

Dowthitt said that on Saturday she told Bridwell that there statement would not be the same because they were in two different positions at the time.

Deaton asked Dowthitt about any training her and other employees had. Dowthitt said they were given a training packet to take home and complete.

Deaton then questioned Dowthitt about her giving a two weeks notice, even though it was previously said she was fired. Dowthitt said she was never fired and that she quit.

Bridwell's trial is expected to go until Friday.

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