Warner Robins woman sentenced to 2 years in jail for child’s death

bpurser@macon.comFebruary 14, 2014 

Shelia Henderson

WARNER ROBINS -- A Warner Robins woman was sentenced Friday to two years in the county jail after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and second-degree cruelty to children in the 2011 heat-related death of a toddler in her care.

Shelia Henderson, 52, who owned Sister-n-Sister Family Home Day Care, was also sentenced by Superior Court Judge George Nunn to eight years of probation upon release from jail, according to a news release from the Houston County District Attorney’s Office.

Three-year-old Andrew Leighlan Calloway, of Warner Robins, died from heat stroke after he was left for an hour in a parked car at the home day care on Georgetown Boulevard when the outside temperature was 95 degrees, according to police and the indictment.

Felony murder and misdemeanor reckless conduct charges that Henderson was originally indicted on in the July 31, 2011, death were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.

Greg Bell, a Warner Robins attorney representing Henderson, said, “Shelia is a very good lady. She’s never been in any trouble before. This is just a horrible, tragic mistake.”

While glad for the dismissal of the murder charge, Bell had sought no jail time for Henderson.

“I don’t understand why she had to go to jail, but I also understand that the judge is in an impossible situation,” Bell said.

During the hearing, Henderson “told the court that she loved Andrew very much and missed him and that she was very sorry for the family and could not imagine what kind of pain they were in.”

Statements from the child’s parents describing the heart-breaking impact of the loss their son were read and entered into the court record.

Henderson was taken into custody immediately after the court hearing, the release stated. She had been free on a $20,000 bond pending trial. The plea averted a trial, which had been expected earlier this month.

Under the sentence, Henderson is forbidden to run any more day care facilities.

“We believe that justice has been served for little Andrew,” prosecutor Erikka Williams stated in the release. “This was a tragic incident but was avoidable had Ms. Henderson taken certain precautions in her role as a day care provider. Nothing that we did today could bring back Andrew, but this guilty plea and sentence are a step towards healing for these grieving parents.”

According to police, the toddler was in the vehicle with Henderson, her sister Johnnie Mae Grayer of Macon, and two other children. They had gone to church and then out to lunch.

After returning home, Henderson later realized Andrew was not inside her house and went outside to find him unconscious in the locked car. The boy was taken to Houston Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.

The Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, the state licensing agency for child care facilities, launched an investigation into the incident. The day care, which is no longer in operation, was not licensed with the state, according to the department.

Wrongful death lawsuit

Meanwhile, a wrongful death lawsuit is pending trial. Andrew’s parents filed the lawsuit in Houston County State Court against Henderson, Grayer and another person at the day care, Martha Andrews. The lawsuit also names the city of Warner Robins and City Clerk Alton Mattox for issuing Henderson a business license.

The city is accused of negligence for allegedly not following its own procedures and policies in issuing the license, said Kathy McArthur of Macon, lead attorney in the civil case.

“The family depended on that ... that it would not have been licensed had it not been an appropriate place to leave their child,” McArthur said.

City Attorney Jim Elliott said, “If there’s any person responsible for that child’s death, that would be the person that pled guilty this week.

“And summarily, the city doesn’t even license day care centers. That’s a function handled only and exclusively by the state. All the city did was authorize the business by issuance of an occupation tax permit like every other business. And there’s no regulatory powers even given to cities to regulate day cares,” Elliott said.

As a result, the city is adamant that there is no basis for liability on the part of the city, Elliott said.

McArthur said the parents did not wish to comment.

“It’s just a sad situation for everyone concerned, and we’re just glad to see this phase concluded, so we can move on,” McArthur said of the criminal case against Henderson.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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