A Vermont daycare owner was arrested on Monday on suspicion of manslaughter and cruelty to a child after a 6-month-old in her care fatally overdosed on an over-the-counter antihistamine commonly used as a sleep aid.
Stacey Vaillancourt, 53, was hauled into custody in connection with the January death of Harper Rose Briar, according to a news release by the Vermont State Police.
“Toxicology testing determined that Harper Briar had high concentrations of diphenhydramine in her body,” police said, referring to the active ingredient in antihistamines such as Benadryl. “The Chief Medical Examiner’s Office determined the cause of Harper Briar’s death was diphenhydramine intoxication, and the manner of death was homicide.”
The autopsy report also noted that diphenhydramine isn’t to be used on infants without an order from a doctor; detectives determined that there was no such physician’s order, and, according to police, Vaillancourt was the only person who cared for Harper Briar before her Jan. 24 death — the baby’s third day at the suspect’s daycare.
"The state is alleging that the defendant sedated an otherwise beautiful, happy, healthy 6-month-old to the point where that baby could not lift her head and died," said Rutland County State's Attorney Rosemary Kennedy. "From the state's perspective that is about as serious a charge that we see in Vermont."
Vaillancourt's lawyer entered not guilty pleas as about 40 relatives and supporters of the baby's family sat in the courtroom wearing pink "Justice for Harper Rose" T-shirts.
Her lawyer, Robert McClallen, told the judge she has ties to the community, including family, owns a home with her mother, ran a daycare for 25 years, has a different job now and had recently undergone bankruptcy proceedings. The state had sought $50,000 bail and a condition that she not have contact with children under the age of 5.
The judge set bail at $25,000 in the form of an unsecured appearance bond and the condition that she not have contact with children under the age of 5, except for her grandchild under the supervision of one of the child's parents.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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