Defense takes its turn in Hudson day care owner trial

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

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - During the second day of testimony in the ongoing trial of the Hudson day care owner charged with child endangerment, Shamita Walker, the worker who witnessed 9-month-old Raegan Brasher fall from a changing table said she thought Jessica Jane Bridwell should have called the child's parents the day of the incident.

Bridwell, 26, of Lufkin, was charged with child endangerment after she failed to tell Taylor Sullivan and Zachary Brasher that their daughter, Raegan, had fallen off of a changing table at the Wild About Kids Day Care and fractured her skull 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 danger of 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.

Walker's appearance in court Thursday morning was a continuation of her testimony toward the end of Wednesday's court proceedings. Walker was in the room with Dowthitt when Raegan rolled off the changing table and fell to the floor.

Walker said Raegan seemed normal and fine when she arrived on Sept. 6.  She said she was on the floor by a rocking chair and baby swing when Dowthitt went to the changing table. Walker said there was a small area that she could see the changing table between the two objects.

"When I looked up, I could see Brittni in the closet with her hand extended towards the changing table," Walker said. "I was like, 'Oh my God.' I looked at Brittni and said, 'Raegan fell.' It shocked [Brittni]."

Walker said she next saw Dowthitt about 10 minutes after she left the room to tell Bridwell about the incident. Walker said Dowthitt seemed apologetic as they were looking over her.

"We were told by Ms. Judy to keep her from falling asleep after she hit her head," Walker said. "She started to doze so I put a wet cloth on her head."

Walker said, as a parent, she thought Bridwell should have called the parents as soon as the incident happened, and it should have been the parents' decision on what to do next. Bridwell never came in the room to find out what happened, she said.

Walker said that from what she knew about Brittni, she knew it was an accident.

On the Friday after she fell, Raegan seemed to be a little off with her that day.

"I really didn't notice it until I saw the knot on her head," Walker said. "She had this bump on her head."

Walker told Raegan's father, Zachary Brasher, about the bump and how it happened. She said Brasher told her that he was told she was dropped, and Walker said she then told him she fell.

"You could tell he was angry," Walker said.

This morning, District Attorney Art Bauereiss, asked Walker about her statement to Bridwell's attorney, Ryan Deaton, back in January.

Walker said she felt that if the story Brittni was telling Jessica was that she caught the baby as she was falling, then she was lying.

"I felt intimidated in his office, because it was the first time I had been in there," Walker said.

During his cross examination, Deaton claimed that Walker is telling a different story now then what she said with her statement back in January.

"I felt like my words were twisted," Walker said.

Deaton asked why Walker would not go find someone and tell what she saw.

"I feel like if I was the owner of the day care, it was her responsibility to come into the room and see what happened," Walker said.

Deaton asked Walker why she did not tell everyone what really happened since she knew Dowthitt told Bridwell a lie about what happened.

"I assumed that when everyone saw the swelling everyone knew what really happened," Walker said. "The truth did not come out until Monday."

Walker said Bridwell never came to her or Dowthitt and never asked them to lie and cover up what happened.

Deaton said he wanted a statement because it seemed the police statement from Hudson PD was missing some details.

The second witness of the day was Corporal Joe Burton with the Hudson Police Department.

Burton said that his background working with EMS as well has giving him training with infants with head trauma injuries.

Burton said the risks are greater because infants are top heavy. Burton said because of the risk, a person would want to get treatment sooner not later.

Burton said he has a sworn statement from October from Bridwell. He said he made sure Bridwell knew that when giving the statement she could leave at any time.

In the statement given to Burton, Bridwell said that Brittni told her that Raegan did fall, but that Dowthitt said she caught her and stopped her from hitting her head. The statement also said the Bridwell admitted to telling Dowthitt to stop writing an incident report because there were no visible signs of injury.

Bridwell continued in it telling Burton that Walker would tell Raegan's father that his daughter fell and hit her head. According to the statement, Bridwell was called by Raegan's parents and she said two stories were told to them because she was lied to by Dowthitt.

Burton said he went back to the day care in November to get another handwritten statement from Bridwell.

Bauereiss asked Burton about his opinion on the incident.

"As a paramedic, I would think the child would have had to hit its head," Burton said.

Burton said the he also got a statement from Dowthitt.

In a statement to Burton, Dowthitt said that while changing Raegan she had one hand on the baby while she was reaching into the changing closet. After Raegan fell, Dowthitt said Bridwell first told me to tell the parents about what happened and to tell Raegan's parents she was sorry, but before that happened Bridwell told her to go clean her room and go home.

Dowthitt told Burton that on Friday, Sept. 7, Bridwell told her that the father seemed to not be mad, and was later told she was being moved out of the room, but it was not because of Raegan falling. Dowthitt said that on Saturday she got a call from Brasher and his dad about the incident. Dowthitt told them that she did not understand why Bridwell did not call them on Thursday, Sept. 6 because she knew about it after it happened.

Under cross examination, Burton told Deaton that he asked Bridwell if there was anybody else who could help with the investigation. Burton said Bridwell didn't give him anyone else.

Burton said it surprised him this morning that he found out through Deaton's questioning that there was another person in the room with Bridwell when Dowthitt came and found her.

Deaton asked Burton about if he took Dowthitt's story as the truth.

"I took Brittni's story as her version," Burton said. "According to Mrs. Bridwell (the stories) were different."

Burton told Deaton that when interviewing, he does not believe anyone and had to go with what the evidence shows. The Hudson police officer said that he didn't talk to the 11 employees in six different rooms, because he didn't think that they would have heard anything, assuming their doors were shut.

Burton said that he never assumed Bridwell or Dowthitt were telling the truth. Burton said he presented the evidence to the grand jury and let them decide.

Deaton then changed direction to ask Burton about the swelling on Raegan. Burton said that to Bridwell's knowledge of the incident, the child was fine when she sent Raegan home.

"I believe, with Mrs. Bridwell not knowing that day, but then finding a spot on the head the next day, Mrs. Bridwell should have called," Burton said.

Based on his investigation and stories he has been told, Burton said he does not believe that Bridwell wasn't trying to cover up anything associated with the incident.

"I believe a normal person would have gotten medical care for the child," Burton said.

In response to follow-up questions from Bauereiss, Burton told the jurors that the two and a half hours from when the swelling was discovered to when Brasher picked up Raegan was important. Burton said as a paramedic, that time frame could make a difference when dealing with subdural hematomas like the one Raegan suffered as a result of her fall.

Deaton asked what difference the two hours made. Burton said that it didn't this time but it could have.

Burton told Deaton that his did not investigate Sullivan or Brasher because they were the complainants. Deaton asked the Hudson police officer if investigating the two had anything to do with Sullivan working for his wife's business since January of 2012.

"The statements that I was given said Mr. Brasher was told that Raegan fell on her back and was almost caught," Burton said.

Burton continued and said the burden is on Bridwell because it happened at her place of business.

Dawn Stanley, a supervisor for Texas Department of Family Services team that covers Hudson, took the stand after Burton.

Stanley said that during the licensing application, Bridwell listed that she has worked at several day care places before.

"I believe it was approximately ten years (of experience)," Stanley said.

Based on standards presented to the jury, Stanley said when injuries happen, the parents are to be notified immediately. For minor incidents, a report must be filled out. Stanley said that with the changing table standards, an employee must either use the straps provided on the table or keep at least one hand on the child at all times.

Bauereiss asked what action should be taken if a child falls off of a changing table.

"The parent should still be notified," Stanley said.

Stanley added that even if there is no swelling or bruising that the parents should still be notified.

"It should be up to the parents if medical care is sought," Stanley said.

Stanley said that the agency became aware of the incident on Sept.8, two days after the incident happened.

"On Monday morning, we traveled to the operation and began an investigation and interviews," Stanley said.

Stanley said the report was not turned in a timely manner.

"(The report) should have been turned in by the end of the day on Friday," Stanley said.

Stanley read a line from a letter to the state licensing agency where Bridwell asked to be put under probation instead of losing her license. Bridwell also said in the letter she would hold regular meetings with employees and have a day care director with more experience come in and help.

During his cross examination, Deaton asked Stanley if she is emotionally invested in the case, and the Texas Department of Family Services supervisor said she is not. Deaton also argued that, according to the state standards, Bridwell would not have had to notify Raegan's parents unless first aid treatment was given by the employees.

Stanley said she disagreed with the gist of the standards in that regard. However, she conceded that Deaton was right about what the standards actually say.

Deaton then argued that slight swelling is not on the list of standards, but Stanley quickly replied that the list also says "not limited to." Stanley said it her professional opinion that Bridwell violated the law, because she reported the incident on Monday when the incident happened on Friday afternoon.

"I think on Sept.6, given what they had, she should have notified the parent," Stanley said. "But on the 7th she did not immediately notify the parents when she saw a 'mushy' spot."

Bauereiss asked Stanley how this incident was different from scratches or cuts and how to deal with them. Stanley said that this is very different because it was a head injury, and it is hard to know at the time there is internal injury.

Bauereiss also called Marcy Ackerman, an investigator with the Department of Family and Protective Services, to the stand Thursday afternoon.

Ackerman said that she was the investigator on the case and met with Bridwell at the daycare to talk about the case. Bridwell presented her with statements from Dowthitt and Walker as well as an incident report, Ackerman said.

Ackerman said that the incident reports are supposed to be signed by the parents, and that the parents had not signed to her knowledge. Ackerman said the Bridwell told her she forgot to get Brasher to sign the report.

Ackerman said Bridwell was cited for placing a child at risk, not notifying the parent, and director responsibility.

Deaton asked Ackerman if Bridwell ever tried to hide anything from her, and Ackerman said, "I don't know."

Bridwell seemed appropriately upset during the investigation, Ackerman told Deaton.

Ackerman said it's not true that Bridwell did not have to notify the parents since there was no visible bruising or swelling at first. Ackerman stated rule 307 in their standards says that they must call parents if a child is put in a risky situation.

The next witness called is Chris Ricks, the step-father of Taylor Sullivan. Ricks said that while he was with Brasher and Sullivan at the hospital in Shreveport, Dowthitt called and he talked to her.

"After she told me what happened, I asked if she walked across the room to get a diaper and she said, 'no it was right there," Ricks said.

Ricks continued in an upset voice and said he asked Dowthitt and the director why they did not seek medical attention for Raegan. He said he was upset with Dowthitt and the day care center.

"I asked her, did you let somebody know to call a doctor, and she said, 'no,'" Ricks said.

Ricks told Deaton that he was never told about any other people involved other than Dowthitt and Bridwell.

The defense's first witness was Esther Hernandez, a former worker at the day care. Hernandez said she was in the "Pink" room when the incident happened.

Hernandez said that Bridwell took pride in the facility and was always busy to make it a good place.

"She was always busy," Hernandez said. "She was never sitting."

Hernandez recalled the time when Dowthitt came over.

"She said she fell, but she never hit the floor," Hernandez said.

Hernandez said she didn't remember what Jessica said after that.

Hernandez said she never remember hearing an infant cry that day.

"[Dowthitt] left and I didn't hear any more about it," Hernandez said. "I went on vacation the next day so I don't know anything about the next day."

Hernandez said she never heard anything the rest of the day about Dowthitt catching the baby before she hit the ground.

Hernandez said that no one has talked to her.

"I find it strange, because everybody else got questioned and had to write a statement, but I never did," Hernandez said.

Bauereiss asked what she would have done if it were her child. Hernandez said if it was her own child that had fallen off she would expect the director to get to the bottom of it as quick as she could and notify the parents.

The second witness for the defense is Sheena Rutledge, a former employee at the day care with Hernandez.

Rutledge said Bridwell was well-liked and she loved what she did.

"She loved (the children) and they loved her," Rutledge said.

Rutledge said she was in the 'Green' room for two-years-olds.

Rutledge said she was going into Hernandez's room to bring her a drink and she said everyone in the room was hysterical over what happened.

"I was told the baby was dropped, and might have hit her bottom," Rutledge said.

Rutledge said she was in hearing distance of Bridwell when she talked to Raegan's dad.

"(Bridwell) told him that there was an incident and Raegan had fallen and (Brasher) said, 'oh, it's OK, she falls all the time at home,'" Rutledge said.

Rutledge said that Raegan seemed normal and maybe just a little tired but not fussy.

Rutledge said Bridwell did nothing inappropriate and that Bridwell did what was right.

"(Bridwell) just told him what she had been told," Rutledge said.

Rutledge said when she came in on Monday she knew something was wrong. She said she knew Bridwell had talked to Brasher and Sullivan over the weekend. Rutledge said she knew it had to be bad since Raegan wasn't there.

Rutledge told Deaton she never went to the police because they didn't come to her and she didn't want to make it seem like what she had was hearsay.

Rutledge told Baueriss said it did not strike her as weird or odd that she would talk to a parent about an issue with a child in the open area of the day care hallway.

Rutledge said she did not hear what Dowthitt told Bridwell but she did remember Bridwell telling Brahser that Raegan fell not dropped.

Rutledge agreed with Bauereiss that she knew that Bridwell was under investigation and could be in trouble but did not go to the police about it.

Rutledge also agreed with Bauereiss that she knew based on the standards by the state that Bridwell was responsible for what happened.

Rutledge told Deaton that she thought Bridwell would get in trouble with licensing but never thought she would get charged as a crime.

The defense next called another former employee, Judy Moore.

Moore said she has worked in the day care business in the Lufkin area for more than 20 years.

"Jessica (Bridwell) loved the kids," Moore said. "This is what she wanted to do."

Moore added that Bridwell did more than what other owners she worked with have done.

Moore told Deaton that Dowthitt came to her to tell her what happened to Raegan and once Moore finally saw Raegan a short time later, she seemed fine.

"I did tell her not to let (Raegan) go to sleep, just in case something happened to her," Moore said.

Moore said that on Sept. 7 she could not remember anything different about Raegan in reference to any swelling on her head.

Moore agreed with Deaton that on the Monday after the incident that she gave a very short statement because she did not know a whole lot to what happened.

Bauereiss asked Moore if the setup of the changing table and diaper closet was a safe condition and Moore agreed that it was not safe.

Moore also agreed with Bauereiss that it is common to call parents if a child falls from a table. Moore also told Bauereiss that if there is a bump on a child that they are to call a parent immediately.

When Bauereiss asked Moore about the statement she gave Hudson police, she said she was nervous writing her statement than just like she was nervous in the courtroom today.

Moore told police that Dowthitt did not tell her if she hit her head or not. Moore  told police that Dowthitt had said Raegan fell off of a changing table.

The trial is expected to go until Friday.

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