Jury finds former Hudson day care owner not guilty in baby's injuries

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

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - A jury has found a former Hudson day care owner not guilty in the skull injuries of a nine-month-old baby who fell off a changing table.

Jessica Jane 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.

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.

During the third day of the ongoing trial of the former Hudson day care owner accused of child endangerment, the defense's witnesses took center stage.

One defense witness testified about Jessica Jane Bridwell's character and another, the owner of a Lufkin day care, said if a similar incident had happened at her facility, she probably would have responded the same way Bridwell did.

Defense attorney Ryan Deaton first called Jean I. Haak to the stand. She said she did not work at the day care during the incident.

"We had to watch a video," Haak said. "We were given a packet with certain scenarios and how to handle it. There was a full discussion between [Bridwell] and I. From the first day she interviewed me, it was like, 'I'm Jessica and this is what I expect at my day care center. It was common knowledge that this is what [Bridwell] expected."

Haak also said it was easy to say Bridwell loved her job. She as lo said that she loved each kid

"They enjoyed her as much as she enjoyed them," Haak said. "It was her passion."

The next witness was Beverly Drake, the owner/director of Noah's Ark Day Care. The business owner said she saw Raegan at her day care during the summer between June and August.

"She did not interact with the children because (Sullivan) held her hand," Drake said.

Drake said that Sullivan told her that Raegan was baby that had fallen off the table and Drake asked her if there were any special needs the child needed. The Lufkin day care owner said the first thing she noticed about Raegan was how good her verbal skills were for her age.

District Attorney Art Bauereiss asked if Drake if she has taken special education with her staff in how to deal with the situation if they have a child fall. Drake said no, and added they are up to state standards.

Drake told Deaton that if what happened to Raegan, happened to a child at her day care, she would have done what Bridwell did.

"We (directors) are in 5 places at one time," Drake said. "We have to rely on our workers."

Drake told Deaton that as a day care director the only medical training they are supposed to have is first aid and CPR. Bauereiss asked Drake more about the training and her interpretation. Drake said she thinks the standards about head trauma with an infant is more about a baby being slung around or thrown against something.

Bridwell then took the stand and said that after her husband had served in the Marines in North Carolina, she came back to Texas and looked at starting a business.

"I wanted to do something with kids," Bridwell said.

Bridwell said that her father, who owns a construction business, built the facility for her when she was 24.

"I think I had four (kids) the day we opened," Bridwell said.

Bridwell said that she took on the responsibilities as director and owner because it was her business.

"It was mine, no one else was involved," Bridwell said.

Bridwell said the facility is now under a different name and ownership by her sister.

Bridwell said the day care was only open for about nine months.

Bridwell said she had workers who had experience and those that did not have much and she trusted each one.

"I had to. They are in the rooms with the kids that came to my facility," Bridwell said.

Bridwell said beyond the office duties she was also responsible for cooking meals, laundry for the day care, shopping and making sure the rooms were clean.

"I had every duty at the day care other than being in the rooms," Bridwell said.

Bridwell said that Raegan showed up at her day care in February.

As Bridwell started crying, she said, "I didn't want anything to happen to those kids."

Bridwell recalled what happened that morning.

Bridwell said she opened the day care early that morning and had a few kids watching a movie in her office until the teachers got there. Bridwell said she then cooked breakfast. After that she said that she went back to office to do paperwork and then went to cook lunch at 10:30 a.m.

"Brittni came into the room and had Raegan and said, 'there has been an accident.' I asked what happened and she said she fell but I caught her and she hit her butt," Bridwell said.

Bridwell then said that she looked over Raegan and she seemed fine so she sent Dowthitt back to the room with Raegan. Bridwell said that she went and did grocery shopping for the day care she went back in the room to check on Raegan and she looked fine. Bridwell said there was nothing there to cause alarm.

Bridwell said that near misses happen all the time.

"Kids fall all the time," Bridwell said. "It's nothing new."

Bridwell said she knew that at the end of the day on Sept. 6 she was going to talk to Brasher.

"He happened to get there when I was holding her," Bridwell said. "I was going to tell him anyways."

Bridwell disputed what Dowthitt said about sending her home.

"I never told her to go home," Bridwell said. "It was Brittni's time to clean. That is why I had Raegan."

Bridwell said that she never kept employees from talking to Brasher. Bridwell also said that when Raegan was given to Brasher that she was perfectly OK.

Bridwell said that even though Raegan appeared OK, she chose to tell Brasher about what happened because he needed to know. Bridwell said that she did not have to file an incident report, because Raegan was OK and she told Brasher when he got there.

Bridwell said in dealing with incident reports, she had to one time fill one out when a child had a really bad cut on his finger and bleeding bad.

Bridwell said that she did not feel based on the minimum standards from The Department of Family Services that an incident report was needed when Raegan fell off of the table. Bridwell said that the standards are not very specific in this instant.

"I specifically told him that there was an incident and Raegan was dropped but was caught as her butt hit the ground," Bridwell said.

Bridwell continued and said that Brasher did not question Bridwell about the incident and did not worry while at home that night.

Bridwell said that the next day she thought everything was normal because the parents never came and told her anything from the night before.

When Bridwell noticed the swelling on the side of Raegan's head, she told Walker that they needed to tell Brasher about it. Bridwell said she next went into her office to file a "boo boo" report to keep in her files. It was not meant to go to the state.

Bridwell said she was washing dishes and she got a call from Brasher asking her why she got two different stories. Bridwell said she was surprised and told him that whatever story he got from Walker was not what was told to her by Dowthitt. Bridwell said Brasher was OK and then hung up the phone.

Bridwell said she immediately went to Walker to find out what she said and tod her that was not what Dowthitt told her.

"I went back to my office to feel out the rest of the report so I could now send it off," Bridwell said.

Bridwell said at that point she did not know that Raegan would have to go to the hospital.

Bridwell said she was upset because she was lied to and that a baby was hurt.

Bridwell recalled the phone call.

"To know she was that hurt and not know it, I am really really sorry," Bridwell said that she then called Dowthitt to let her know what happened and that Dowthitt told her she would put in a two weeks' notice but Bridwell told her she was being let go.

Bridwell admitted to Sullivan and Brasher in text messages over the following weekend that she made a mistake and she should have had an incident report for the parents to sign on Thursday.

Bridwell said that she took responsibility for what happened.

"She was my baby at the facility," Bridwell said. "You take care of them to the point that you make them feel better and to the point that you care."

In tears, Bridwell read the text were she admitted to Sullivan she made a mistake and that is why Dowthitt was terminated from the facility. Bridwell said that she never was trying to argue what she was told. Bridwell said she was trying to be open and admit to her everything she knew.

In the text messages, Bridwell said she never told Sullivan she was given a distorted story.

On Monday, Bridwell recalled that on Monday she called Walker and Dowthitt into her office.

"I brought them in and explained what was going on," Bridwell said. "I demonstrated to Brittni what she said she happened. She kept telling me that the baby fell but she caught the baby on her butt."

Bridwell said she had Walker tell her story and Dowthitt kept telling her same story and told Walker that what she said is not what happened.

Bridwell said Walker wrote her statement up quickly, but Dowthitt took about 5 times to finally finish it.

"I told Brittni to tell the truth, but what she wrote wasn't," Bridwell said.

Bridwell said that when the state came out on the following Monday she gave full access to the investigators and was open and honest.

Bridwell disagreed with earlier testimony by Corporal Joe Burton that Bridwell "limited" his investigation. Bridwell said that she never tried to hide anything with her words.

Deaton goes back to Friday and asked if earlier witness testimony was true about Bridwell talking to Dowthitt and Walker about what happened. Bridwell said that was not true.

Deaton next brought up a statement from Bridwell where she said, "my response to that situation at that point; I should have gone to the team teacher and get her input into what happened then."

"I wrote that later on way after to show (the state) what I could do better as a director," Bridwell said.

Bridwell said she would hope she would have been called if it were her.

"If they knew it happened there, I would want to be called there," Bridwell said.

Bridwell said she felt she acted out of love towards Raegan and she would have caused the state agency on Saturday but was unaware that there was a hotline for the weekend. Bridwell thought there was no hotline.

Sullivan told Bauereiss during state rebuttal that after Raegan got out of the hospital, she would stay at home with her.

Sullivan recalled visiting a Noah's Ark day care back in July of 2013.

Sullivan admitted to telling the director about what happened at Bridwell's daycare.

"She changed the subject fast," Sullivan said. "She started to try and show me what her room would be like."

Sullivan told Bauereiss that Raegan is still facing issues and is not of the woods yet.

"We are still having to get MRIs on her and see a sleep neurologist in Houston," Sullivan said.

During his closing arguments, Bauereiss said the case marks an unusual crime because it was by omission. He said it was a failure to act, which is different from most crimes.

The district attorney said he believes the terms intentionally or knowingly means that the person meant to do it. Bauereiss said that from his opinion Bridwell should be held to a higher standard than someone who would have walked into the day care from the street.

Bauereiss closed by asking the jury to not get a head of themselves in the process.

Deaton countered by telling the jurors that each person changes every day of their lives, and that people make different decisions as they grow and mature. The defense attorney said Bridwell is by all accounts a good person and is on trial by a weird occurrence and was lied to.

"I don't get where the state is coming from," Deaton said. "I don't get it. It has been a waste of time."

Deaton continued by saying this is serious because this is dealing with a person's life. He urged the jurors to base their decisions on the facts and not speculation.

The defense attorney said for the jurors to convict Bridwell, they would have to believe Dowthitt, even though her testimony created reasonable doubt. Continuing, Deaton said it doesn't make any sense for the state to "hook their wagon" to Dowthitt's testimony.

Deaton argued that Bridwell was within the minimum standards by the state agency and that gross negligence was never achieved.

"We have all had situations in our past to where we can say, 'Oh yeah, we have a broken neck or fractured  skull,' I would have worked with that differently,'" Deaton said.

Deaton asked the jurors how Bridwell could have connected the dots in the situation on Sept. 6. Deaton said it is easy to understand it now but in that weird situation it was hard to do so He added it is a strange case because Raegan had a skull fracture, and it took more than 24 hours for the signs to start showing.

Deaton said she didn't do what Bauereiss has argued because Bridwell was told a different story than what happened, and that the signs were not able to be seen at that time.

Moving on to the police investigation. Deaton said that if the police would have gone in immediately and interviewed all the employees, Bridwell would have not been indicted or been all over the media.

Deaton said that if you look at Bridwell's testimony and the text messages in evidence, you can see that Bridwell cared the whole time about the child.

"Bridwell is taking the fall for something she didn't do," Deaton said. "I know when you are done, you are going to come back and let this young woman go."

Bauereiss responded to Deaton's claim that the swelling was not much.The district attorney said that it was arrogant for Deaton to play the role of a doctor when he talked to the jury.

It is fair to expect Bridwell to connect the dots because the child was in her care and her responsibility, Bauereiss said.

Bauereiss said that Raegan is not out of the woods and is still having trouble, and that could have been because of the failure to get medical help. In addition, Bauereiss said because Bridwell has been working in the day care business since she was 16, she shouldn't get a pass because she is young.

"I'm not on a witch hunt," Baueriss said. "I just think that our children deserve better."

The jury was then sent back to the deliberating room to decide on a verdict.

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