Cops eye criminal charges in day care outing case

Christina Karimi with her 2-year-old daughter, Alexia Zambrotta,

Christina Karimi with her 2-year-old daughter, Alexia Zambrotta, during a press conference at her lawyer's office in Bay Shore. (Aug. 16, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara)

Criminal charges are likely in the case of the 2-year-old Bay Shore girl who was left behind at a South Shore park after a day care center outing, authorities said Friday.

The investigation is focused on several individuals connected with the now-shuttered day care Our Little Darlings Early Educational Center, a state park police official said.

"We're taking this very seriously, conducting a criminal investigation that is expected to result in action early next week," said Capt. Bruce Marx, commander of the park police on Long Island.

Marx said potential charges include endangering the welfare of a child.

Alexia Zambrotta, who was unharmed, wound up being stranded for more than three hours following the Tuesday afternoon outing to Heckscher State Park. Police said a woman at the park alerted them to the unsupervised child.

On Thursday, state regulators took emergency action to immediately shut down the home-based center and revoked its license to care for 16 children.

The company's owners, Bernette Bailey-Marsh and Eugene Marsh, have 30 days to appeal the revocation. They did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

Bailey-Marsh and Marsh also own a second, separately licensed day care center in Bay Shore, Our Little Darlings Day Care, at 317 Atlantic Ave., according to Pat Cantiello, a spokeswoman for the state Office of Children and Family Services.

That business, which remains open, has a history of violations during the past two years, all of which have been corrected, state records show. Some violations were for health and safety problems, including peeling paint and noncompliance with fire codes.

Licensing regulations require the on-site providers to be 18 or older with two years' experience caring for children. They must also be fingerprinted and submit to a criminal-background check.

The mother of the 2-year-old, Christina Karimi, 37, said she first learned of her daughter's disappearance when police called shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday. She was home from work and waiting for Alexia to be dropped off by the day care center.

State park police records show the day care's bus left Heckscher Park at 3:10 p.m., and its employees didn't call the park -- to ask about a missing girl -- until 6:21 p.m., Marx said.

"Did they even know she was missing?" he said. "Or were they trying to scurry around, looking under the bus for three hours and 11 minutes?"

Lifeguards at the Heckscher beach said they were approached by a mother of three who had found Alexia at a nearby playground. As police searched in vain for the girl's parents, the anxiety level rose.

"You start thinking, 'Is anybody going to come claim this kid?' " said lifeguard Brendan Grabowski, 30. "We've had lost kids, but never for more than 40 minutes."

"And then a mother is screaming, running frantically down the beach," said Ashley Sudano, 22, another lifeguard.

Alexia -- closely supervised -- spent the afternoon clambering up the dunes and over furniture in the lifeguards' lounge.

"She was great -- giggling, laughing," Sudano said. "She was doing better than everybody else."

 

Chronology of child left behind

 

About 1 p.m. Tuesday: A Bay Shore day care center outing to Heckscher State Park begins with 2-year-old Alexia on the bus, according to the girl's mother.

About 2: A mother finds Alexia unsupervised at a park playground. After about an hour, she brings the girl to lifeguards at the nearby beach, State Park Police said.

3:10: The bus leaves the park, leaving Alexia behind, police said.

3:15: Police are alerted and soon begin searching for the girl's parents.

6:21: The day care calls police, asking about the missing girl. Police contact her mother, Christina Karimi.

7:15: Karimi retrieves her daughter.

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