Today’s winner is Linda Netherton. Mrs. Netherton was the owner of the Stepping Stones child-care center in Tallahassee Florida where 4-year-old Grace Chen died last summer. The investigation of what happened is complete and its pretty damning. Here’s the highlights in my opinion.
No one noticed Grace was missing until 14 minutes after firefighters arrived on scene, according to a detailed Tallahassee Police Department report of the incident. Firefighters couldn’t get inside quickly to do a sweep of the building. Lt. James Lyle told investigators “the heat was so intense inside the doorway they had to retreat and attack the fire from another angle.”
The 36 evacuated children had been moved from the parking lot to a nearby building. Police Officer David McCranie repeatedly asked if anyone was missing, but the employees didn’t have a roster with them. A child stood up and said, “My friend, Grace.”
One teacher thought this was in reference to the owner’s child, also named Grace, but that child wasn’t at school that day. A few moments later, she realized who it was.
Grace was found unconscious on her sleeping mat in a back corner seven minutes later. A medical examiner’s report reveals she died of smoke inhalation.
At the time of the fire, the owner of the business, Linda Netherton, was away due to a family emergency, the police report states. According to procedure, she would take the sign-in sheet out in the event of a fire. The acting director, who was tasked with checking for any children left behind during a fire, was out on her lunch break. Netherton didn’t return a call for comment on Wednesday.
The “floater” teacher in charge of Grace and nine other 4-year-olds had not been trained yet on what to do during a fire, according to the police report. She had been working for the center for two months and was scheduled to be trained the same day. At the time, she was covering for two other teachers on their lunch break.
She told investigators when she smelled smoke, she screamed for the sleeping children to get up. Believing she had gotten everyone out of the pre-kindergarten room, she then went to help evacuate the infants. The teacher admitted she’d forgotten Grace was asleep under an orange blanket in the back corner because no other kids were there. A pile of blankets and dress-up clothes was also obstructing her view, she said. The building quickly filled with thick, black smoke, and she was in a rush to get the children out.
Read the part in bold. The teacher had been working there two months, and hadn’t been trained as to what to do in case of a fire. She should have been trained what to do, BEFORE starting work there. I don’t blame the teacher, I blame the owner of the place. The teacher wasn’t trained and left in charge of up to 10 children and helping to evacuate 36. More incompetence. I have no problem at all naming Linda Netherton today’s Knucklehead of the Day. If you want to read the reports on what happened click here and here.