Catasauqua Press

Friday, September 22, 2017

Lehigh Twp. day care owner pleads guilty in 2016 infant death

Wednesday, August 16, 2017 by BERNIE O’HARE Special to The Press in Police Log

Sharon’s Day Care owner and operator Sharon Ballek, 61, has pleaded guilty to charges filed in connection with the April 1, 2016, death of a 3-month-old baby who had been entrusted to Ballek’s care. McKenna Rose Felmly died on her first day at the now-closed Lehigh Township facility, located at 4538 Third St.

Ballek entered her guilty plea before Northampton County Judge Paula Roscioli July 31. She admitted to both endangering the welfare of a child and reckless endangerment.

The charge of endangering a child is a first-degree misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The reckless endangerment charge is a second-degree misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of two years in prison and a $5,000 fine. There was no agreement concerning the penalty. Roscioli has ordered a presentence investigation report and will sentence Ballek Sept. 15.

Ballek is represented by Allentown Criminal Defense Attorney Gavin Holihan. She remains free on $50,000 unsecured bail.

Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli called the death a “tragedy” that should serve as a warning to all day care providers. He said the message is simple.

“When people bring their children to a day care, they place these children in your care. When you agree to accept these children and charge a fee for your services, you are impliedly assuring that your environment will be a safe one for the children and that you will adhere to and follow all regulations promulgated by the state to ensure safety.”

Grand jury testimony established that, on at least three occasions on that fateful day, McKenna was left alone and unsupervised for periods of between 25 and 30 minutes in the “back room,” a walk-in closet or nursery in an unlicensed portion of the day care.

Ballek, who cooperated with authorities, acknowledged she did place McKenna in the crib on her back but turned her over to her stomach because she screamed on her back. She admitted that this sleep position was incorrect and that there was no monitor in the back room.

Grand jurors also heard from Jean Kroboth, who had worked with Ballek since 1991. On the day in question, she said Ballek came out from the back room and handed her the baby, whose body was cold and lips were blue.

“She handed me a dead baby. The baby was dead,” she said.

Ballek herself was allegedly very distraught after the incident and suffered a heart attack either that day or the next.

Two medical experts gave conflicting accounts. Dr. Rameeen Starling-Roney, who did the autopsy, called McKenna’s death a sudden, unexplained death in infancy. Dr. Mark X. Cicero, from Yale University, however, said the baby should have been monitored.

“If a day care provider had been watching McKenna, that provider would have noted any respiratory distress or apnea that occurred prior to McKenna’s death. This would have prevented McKenna’s death ...”

By a 19-1 vote, the grand jury decided there was insufficient evidence to call McKenna’s death a homicide.