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Daycare operator charged in child drowning

July 24, 2013
By MEL TOADVINE ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

A Lehigh Acres home daycare mother was released on bond Friday from the Lee County Jail after she was charged with aggravated manslaughter and three counts of child neglect, all as the result of the drowning of a two-year-old boy in the backyard of her daycare home.

The judge set Smith's bond at $15,000 to $10,000 for manslaughter and $1,500 for each child neglect count.

The woman was identified by the Lee county Sheriff's Office as 42-year-old Melissa Smith of 5003 Lee Circle North in Lehigh. She is the owner of the Smith Family Day Care Center.

Article Photos

Melissa Smith

The drowning of 2-year-old Christian Byrd occurred on June 24 in a small children's pool in the backyard of her home. She was caring for seven children, all under the age of five.

According to the Lee County Sheriff's Office, deputies were called to the home next door at 5007 Lee circle North after a report was called in that a child had drowned.

According to reports, Smith had left three unattended children in the small portable swimming pool and went into the house to attend to the other children. At that time she went to use the bathroom in her home and as she left, after five to seven minutes later, one of the children told her that "Christian's dead."

Investigators with the Major Crimes Units said she scooped the child into her arms and ran to the neighbor's home and screamed that he help to save the child. The neighbor was a former Marine. According to reports, she was certified to perform CPR.

She left three children still unattended in the small pool and well as the other three youngsters inside her home.

Smith called 911 and the neighbor began attempts to revive the child as did medics when they arrived. However, the boy was pronounced dead after being rushed to the hospital.

An autopsy was performed and it determined that Christian Byrd died as a result of drowning.

According the Sheriff's investigators, Smith consciously and intentionally left the victim in a swimming pool without supervision and knowing Byrd could not swim. Detectives charged Smith with aggravated manslaughter and child neglect.

Smith's attorney, Robert Harris told reporters that his client, Melissa Smith, is devastated and feels horrible for the family (of the boy). He said she was CPR certified but panicked and relied upon a neighbor who was a Marine to do the CPR while she called 911.

"She's not grieving because she's in jail, she's grieving because there's a death of a child, it was on her watch and no one feels worse than she does," the attorney said.

The daycare center had just renewed its registration with the state last month. It has been operating since 2009.

According to the Florida Department of Children and Families, she was allowed to take care of 10 children at her daycare center.



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