Two years house arrest for Petrolia day care provider

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Heather Wright/The Independent

A former Petrolia day care provider has been sentenced to two years of house arrest after pleading guilty to criminal negligence causing bodily harm in the near drowning of toddler Waylon Saunders.

Jan. 24, 2023, the little boy slipped out the back door of Paula Maness’ home daycare and fell into an icy backyard pool. No one knows how long he was under the water but it took emergency responders and health care workers in Petrolia and London hours to revive the freezing boy.

Friday, Maness pled guilty in a Sarnia court and Waylon’s mom, Gillian Burnett, spoke about the impact the tragic event has had on her son and her family calling it “the worst day of my life.”

Justice GW King heard Maness, who had been a day care provider for 10 years, had left the door which led to the backyard and the pool open to air out her Juniper Street home after a flood in the basement.

A couple out for a walk with their child and dog heard screaming coming over the fence. The man found Maness in the water and the toddler, soaking, not moving with blue lips, on the concrete deck surrounding the pool. Maness, according to the agreed statement of facts read into the record, was doing CPR.

The bystander took over until firefighters and paramedics arrived. The little boy was taken to Charlotte Eleanor Englehart Hospital where doctors and nurses took turns doing CPR as the little boy warmed up.

Burnett, in her victim impact statement which she read to Justice King, said those moments will “forever be imprinted in my head, replaying daily and haunting me nightly.

“I don’t think I’ve had a sound sleep since.

“Often I wake, covered from sweat, crying from the night terrors, looking for Waylon. The picture of my little boy’s body convulsing on a bed while CPR was performed sends chills down my spine. It makes me physically ill every time the images flash through my head,” she said.

“I remember holding his little feet to my face, thinking if he could feel me, he would come back. The cold that radiated off his body was something I’ve never experienced before,” Burnett said in court.

“I remember saying, ‘please, I don’t care how he comes back, just bring him back.’”

Waylon did come back and by Feb. 6, 2023, he was able to go home. But Burnett told the court he is forever changed. The statement of facts read Friday said the “impact (on Waylon)will not be clear until later in life but there is high risk for ongoing seizure activity.” Burnett told the court he drags his left leg and some of the development has slowed.

“Waylon wasn’t the little boy I remember. I was grateful and over the moon he was alive, but I missed the boy he was. Even Waylon’s voice sounded different,” she said.

“He might be hard to understand, and he does drag his left leg when he runs, but by the grace of God, Waylon isn’t bed and chair bound for life.”

Burnett added there have been impacts on the family. Instead of one job, she’s now working three to support her family. Waylon’s sister, who was at the day care the day he fell into the pool, has been traumatized.

“She wakes often with dreams that a loved one has died and hearing my now four year-old cry saying, ‘I love you and Waylon so much, please don’t die, okay?’ is absolutely heartbreaking. All I can do is hug her longer and assure her we aren’t going anywhere.

“I wish I could erase those awful memories for her. I’m left to wonder, will she ever forget what happened or will this haunt her for the rest of her life like it will me.”

The court heard that Maness had been a day care provider – both licenced and unlicenced – for a decade. On that January day, she was following the rules which allow unlicensed providers to have up to three children under two and two others in the home at one time.

Lawyer Aaron Prevost says Maness wanted to accept responsibility for Waylon’s near drowning and pointed out her guilty plea avoids a traumatic trial.

“This is, obviously, every parent’s, on both sides, worst nightmare that when you have a child in your care, a lapse in attention, momentary or otherwise, can result in dire consequences, and there’s no doubt that is what happened here and that is something that my client, but in particular, the mother of the child is going to struggle with from here on out,” he said.

Crown Attorney Nicole Godfrey and Prevost agreed to a two-year term of house arrest where Maness would not be able to work or volunteer with children under 13. She’ll also be on probation for a year.
Godfrey said the sentence – the longest term of house arrest possible under the law – was needed not just in this case but to serve as a warning in the community.

“Our community relies heavily on unlicenced home day care providers, and offences like these can cause members of our public to doubt those types of care, home day care providers, and many of whom do provide safe and competent care for children,” she told the court.

“A strong message must be sent to Ms. Maness and to other unlicenced home day care providers, and the community at large, that those who have a duty of care to children under their supervision, who fail to provide them with a safe environment and age appropriate supervision will receive significant penalty.”

Justice King agreed with the sentence adding Burnett’s victim impact statement was “profoundly moving…It won’t be lost on me for the rest of my life.”

Meantime, Maness has also felt the impact of that day. Court heard she has sought counselling to help deal with Waylon’s near drowning.

Burnett told the court “I’ve tried so hard to forgive. That’s what God would want me to do, but I can’t. I’m not ready yet.”

The family has filed a $9 million civil suit stemming from the incident to help meet the toddlers future medical needs.