Older but Bitter

Sixty-eight-year-old Wanda Crawford hasn't killed anyone yet. But authorities say it's not for lack of trying.

The little problems they'd noticed nagged at Troy and Selina until, in early September, they decided to find a new babysitter. They knew from experience that the process would take a while. They didn't want to make another mistake.

Their determination to replace Crawford was reinforced October 1, when Selina picked up Stephanie from daycare and discovered a red mark about the size of a nickel below Stephanie's left eye. Crawford told Selina that the baby had hit her face while crawling underneath an iron table. Stephanie, Crawford said, had cried for several hours afterward.

Unbeknownst to the De La Rosas, their complaints about Crawford at the time weren't the first. Neither were they the most serious. In fact, Crawford's daycare license had been suspended for six months in 1988 after a six-month-old boy she'd been babysitting was diagnosed as suffering from Shaken Baby Syndrome.

According to records on file with the Colorado Division of Child Care Services, at approximately 3:45 p.m. on November 13, 1987, Crawford made an emergency phone call to the infant's mother. The boy, she said, was lethargic--possibly comatose. His pupils were dilated, and he'd thrown up a large amount of white fluid.

When doctors at the Fort Carson hospital examined the baby, they found evidence of retinal hemorrhaging and subdural hematoma (bleeding between the brain and skull).

Infants' heads are large in relation to the size of their bodies, and their necks are weak. If a baby is shaken violently, its head will rock forward and back like a rag doll. When that happens, says Dr. Michael Thompson, an emergency specialist at Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs, the baby's brain "literally rattles inside the skull."

In some cases, doctors say, a baby who's been violently shaken will remain conscious but within hours may become lethargic and vomit repeatedly. Often there is no sign of external trauma to the child. But a medical exam will reveal hemorrhages in the retinal area of the eye, the result of pressure inside the skull.

If the shaking is severe enough, the blood vessels supplying the baby's brain will rip and tear, and their contents will spill into the space between the skull and the gray matter of the brain. Nerve cells may be broken off or sheared.

With such injuries, a child will lose consciousness. A coma or death may result. If the child lives, permanent brain damage is likely.

Within days after the boy was rushed to the hospital from Crawford's home, the El Paso County Department of Social Services ordered Crawford's daycare license suspended while the case was investigated. Medical records and other information were forwarded to the Kempe Center, a Denver-based facility specializing in the prevention and treatment of child abuse.

Suspicion was cast on Crawford and on the child's mother because of their differing stories. A report in Crawford's Child Care Services file says she claimed that the little boy had been ill when he arrived at her home that morning. His mother denied that account, claiming that the child was fine earlier but was critically ill when she came to pick him up.

The results of the investigation were inconclusive--doctors were unable to determine when the boy was hurt and by whom. In a letter to the county social services department, the director of the Kempe Center advised that the department keep an eye on the boy's family and on Crawford's daycare business. Selina De La Rosa says she has since talked to the mother of the injured boy, who told her he has developed normally.

Because authorities couldn't prove what happened, Crawford's daycare license was reinstated in June 1988.

The complaints against Crawford didn't stop, however. El Paso County Social Services investigated Crawford's business again in 1990 after a woman complained that her three-year-old son returned home from a day at Crawford's with bite marks and bruises on his body. In addition, the mother charged, Crawford was caring for eight children under age four (Crawford's license allowed her to care for no more than six children.) Social Services declared the charges unfounded.

At 4 a.m. on October 8, 1993, Troy De La Rosa awoke to the sound of whimpers coming from the next room. Nine-month-old Stephanie was teething, and it was Troy's turn to see to her. Selina rolled over to catch a little more sleep as her husband padded into the baby's room. From their bed, Selina could hear Troy talking to Stephanie.

Stephanie calmed and quieted after her father gave her a little milk, allowing the grateful Troy to go back to bed.

At 5:45 Stephanie began to fuss a second time. "It was her 'Come get me out of bed cry,'" Selina later testified, and it was a call to which her parents were pleased to respond. "She's very happy in the morning," Selina explained. "She kicks and smiles."

Like most young couples with a new baby, the De La Rosas had worked out a closely choreographed schedule to get them--and Stephanie--out the door in time each workday. One of them would watch the baby while the other went about getting ready for work.

Sometimes, after the baby ate her breakfast and while Selina was still in the shower, Troy would read to Stephanie from a Dr. Seuss book or show her flash cards. Troy would hold up a card and say "giraffe," or "nose" or "knee." He'd read somewhere that if parents read to their children at a young age, they grow up smarter.

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