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(Posted 9 p.m., Nov. 28)
Caregivers describe circumstances surrounding toddler's drowning
By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

The circumstances surrounding the 2010 drowning death of Jérèmie Audette are the focus of a coroner's inquest which began on Monday. File photo


The caregiver responsible for the safety of a two-year-old boy who drowned in a backyard pool in July 2010, only let the boy out of her sight for "two or three minutes" before he was discovered floating face down in the water.

Cynthia McLellan, 48, was visiting her friend and fellow caregiver Wendy Lapierre with seven of her charges when the accident occurred.

On Wednesday McLellan testified that she had already changed Jérèmie Audette into his swimsuit and was changing the other kids into their bathing suits when the toddler wandered off.

Only two or three minutes passed when she heard Lapierre's eight-year-old daughter Chloe, and her own daughter Audrey Maynard, 9, start to scream.

McLellan immediately ran up the wooden stairs to the above ground pool and jumped into the water. She carried Audette's limp body to the pool deck and began performing mouth-to-mouth and CPR on him.

"He threw up in my mouth and on the deck," McLellan told coroner Vivian-Lee Stewart.

She turned Audette on his side and he vomited again.

While McLellan was trying to revive Audette, the 28 other children who had been playing in the backyard were ushered into the house.

Firefighters arrived soon afterwards and took over the efforts to resuscitate the youngster. When the paramedics arrived on the scene a minute or two later, Audette was exhibiting no vital signs. He was later pronounced dead after being transported to CHEO by ambulance.

When asked by Stewart whether she thought there was adequate supervision in the backyard given the number of kids, McLellan said she had never had any problems before.

When pressed further on whether or not there was an understanding among the three caregivers who were at the playdate, McLellan failed to answer the question directly. Instead, she said that the children in her care were under "constant supervision", and that she was always checking on their whereabouts.

This differs somewhat from the video statement her daughter made to police shortly after the incident occurred. Maynard told police investigators that her mother had noticed Audette was missing, but did not immediately go looking for him until he was discovered in the pool.

“She just said ‘Jérèmie disappeared,’” Maynard said in a videotaped interview.

When asked about her daughter's statement, McLellan said she misspoke and that her statement was "false".

The Children's Aid Society investigator assigned to the case believed the young girl's version of events.

“We believed that (McLellan) was aware that he had disappeared and did not go looking for him,” CAS investigator Gavin Fletcher told the inquest.

McLellan also testified she told the kids not to go in the big pool.

“Is it your experience that two-year-olds always do what they’re told?” Stewart pressed McLellan.

“No,” McLellan replied — unless you “repeat it and repeat it and repeat it.”

She said she had told the children twice.

During the first three days of the inquest, a great deal of attention has been placed on the gate leading to the stairs to the pool and whether or not it was open or closed at the time of the accident.

McLellan testified on Tuesday that she couldn't remember whether the gate was open when she ran up the stairs.

Police photos of the scene show the gate being propped opened by a small slide. Another photo of the latch on the gate clearly shows that it was hanging on by a single screw.

Lapierre testified on Wednesday that the gate was safe inspite of the faulty latch which required some effort to close properly.

Lapierre still runs an unlicensed daycare out of her house despite being fined $2,000 under the provincial Day Nurseries Act for violations committed during a four day period in July 2010 and placed on 12 months probation.

She explained that she continued to operate because the parents of the children under her care wouldn't let her stop.

McLellan got out of the daycare business shortly after the Children's Aid Society recommended she do so following the drowning incident.

“If she (continued to have) children in her care, we would see that as an immediate risk,” Fletcher told Stewart. “Our recommendation was that she not run a daycare again.”

The inquest continues on Thursday in the Provincial Courthouse on Elgin Street.

A police photo shows the South Fallinbrook backyard where two-year-old Jérèmie Audette drowned while attending a playdate on July 28, 2010.. Ottawa Police Service photo


(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)

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