TAMPA, Florida - It's a tragedy that's changed multiple lives forever: a 16-month-old Tampa boy is now fighting for his life after a tragic accident at a Halloween party last year where he choked on a hot dog.
Fitzgerald Richards II went nearly half an hour without any oxygen, sources say. He now has virtually no brain activity, and has a feeding tube. His parents have been by his side constantly at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa.
At the heart of this case is the circumstance surrounding the accident. Fitzgerald's family claims that the accident happened while he was on what they call an "unsanctioned field trip" to that Halloween party, without any permission slips or warning. In addition, the healthcare provider at the Academy of Tots daycare, Lena Regis, is accused of not having the proper paperwork to transport the children.
Fitzgerald is described as energetic, robust, and full of life. Regis claims that she thinks of the child and cares for him as one of her own. She runs her home daycare 24 hours a day for working parents who have jobs on different shifts. She also cares for Fitzgerald's sibling.
"What people don't understand that he didn't choke from chewing, eating the hot dog, he choked from holding food in his mouth," Lena Regis told 10 News.
Regis has been in child care for 30 years and said she's never had a problem until now. "It broke my heart, changed my life, changed my way of doing things, changed my way of existing," she said.
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Regis was cleared by Tampa police in this accident and, according to documents, she had verbal permission from Fitzgerald's parents to take him to the Halloween party. She said she posted a flier at her daycare, that parents knew about the trip, and that they intended to sign slips when picking up their kids.
And, she claims to have paperwork showing that her daughter, who transported the five children, including Fitzgerald, was in compliance with the transportation standards required by the state.
Regis tearfully said, "Protective services, they cleared me. Police cleared me the next day. I did everything."
But, according to licensing standards, you have to have written permission for field trips ahead of time. And Fitzgerald's parents say they were flabbergasted to learn their toddler was taken off property on the field trip.
Family attorney Clinton Paris said there is not a civil lawsuit in the works right now. "We have to provide all the support we can to make sure children are kept safe, that [the children] left in someone's care are returned in the same manner that they are left," Paris said.
He added, "The parents want answers."
Today, Regis pleaded with board members at the Early Learning Coalition to keep her county funding, which is now in jeopardy. Regis gets an amount per child to care for them. Board members have already voted to terminate her contract. However, Regis had an opportunity to plead her case and appeal the decision. The board voted and will notify Regis on Friday.