14 police calls to foster home led up to near-death
The near-drowning was the latest in five years worth of calls to the St. Paul house, including one last year from the frantic provider herself.
By ANTHONY LONETREE, Star Tribune
Fourteen times in five years, police have been called to a St. Paul foster home where an 18-month-old girl nearly drowned this week after being left unattended in a bathtub.
Once last year, the caller was the foster-care provider herself, seemingly frantic about her husband leaving the house after an argument and warning she was “emotionally unable to care for the children” when alone, police said.
Police and state human services records have identified the foster-care providers as Barbara L. Wright, 46, and her husband, Daniel L. Wright, 50.
Since that afternoon, five more calls have been made to police about the house across the street from an East Side playground, the most recent involving the near-drowning Wednesday. The girl remains hospitalized in critical condition.
Initial reports indicated the 18-month-old and her 3-year-old sibling were left alone for a brief period before the toddler was found submerged, said police spokesman Sgt. Paul Schnell. The 3-year-old since has been moved elsewhere. Nobody appeared to be home Thursday or Friday.
Investigators now are working to determine how long the children were left unattended, Schnell said. It wasn’t clear how many children had been living in the house.
Paul Gustafson, a spokesman for the Ramsey County attorney’s office, said that as of Thursday, police had not forwarded to prosecutors any request to consider charges. Since 2007, however, authorities have prosecuted at least two cases in the Twin Cities area in which mothers left toddlers alone in bathtubs and returned to find them drowned.
Last year, a Lakeville woman was sentenced to six months in jail and 10 years’ probation after an August 2007 incident in which she left her 11-month-old daughter and 2-year-old son in the tub while she shopped for shoes on the Internet. The girl died.
Earlier this year, a Brooklyn Center woman was spared jail time but was sentenced to six months’ house arrest after her 13-month-old son drowned in a tub while she talked on the phone for nearly 40 minutes.
At the start, Wednesday’s incident in the 1600 block of Darlene Street was investigated as a possible case of child neglect, according to a report filed Wednesday.
According to the June 4, 2008, report, Wright called 911 “continually” that day to report that her husband had gone and that she was unable to care for the children alone.
Daniel Wright had left to “cool down” after the couple argued, she told police then. She needed him, she added, to help care for their 5-year-old daughter and to lift in the bathroom a foster child using a wheelchair. She was very tired from a lack of sleep, the police report said, and was suffering from back pain.
Police persuaded her husband to return home.
The officer who was at the scene wrote that it was difficult to determine what kind of care the disabled child might be getting when the husband was not there. But the officer added: “The residence was clean and all three of the children inside the residence appeared to be clean and cared for,” the report said.
Police shared the report with child-protection authorities, but it was unknown Friday whether Ramsey County conducted any follow-up investigation.
Of the 14 police calls to the address since June 2004, three stemmed from disturbances and four calls involved incidents described only as “domestics.” No reports were written for those seven calls, making it difficult to gauge the seriousness of the incidents. In May 2008, police also responded to a report about a runaway there.
The house, which began taking foster children in 2002, is licensed to provide care for up to five children younger than 18.
Because of restrictions in the state’s data practices law governing child-protection matters, Schnell said there were limits to what he could say about Wednesday’s incident. For example, when asked whether any foster children had been removed from the house Wednesday, he said only: “There are no foster children there at the present time.”
No one answered the door at the house Thursday afternoon or Friday morning. Children’s scooters were in the grass out front; a trampoline and a camper took up much of the back yard.
Across the street, neighbor Nicolas Wegener, 26, said that given the size of the foster home, he suspected the living conditions there would be tight. The house, which sits on a corner lot, was much like his own home, he said, and “I couldn’t imagine having more than two kids in this place,” he said.
Other neighbors, who asked not to be identified, said that some of the younger people at the house — residents and visitors — were unruly at times. Asked how the foster home fit into the area, one neighbor said: “Everyone in the neighborhood feels sorry for the woman living next door.”
Anthony Lonetree • 612-673-4109