Carmel daycare where baby died operated illegally for months

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CARMEL – A Fox59 investigation has learned that the daycare where a 5-month-old baby died in January had been operating illegally for several months.

The Hamilton County Coroner tells Fox59 that Conor Tilson died of probable Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) on Jan. 24. The child was found not breathing and unresponsive in a broken, portable crib. That same day, the daycare’s operators tested positive for marijuana.

Fox59 has learned the Stacey Cox Child Care Center received several warnings from state investigators that it was illegal to care for more than five children without a state license. Those warnings were ignored as the facility apparently continued to break the rules for at least three months.

Stacey Cox and her daughter Kristen Phillips ran the facility.

The Family and Social Services Administration started investigating in September after receiving complaints about a baby who came home with several bite marks. State investigators found unsafe conditions and more than five children being cared for. That is illegal for an unlicensed daycare.

After multiple inspections showed more than five children in the home, the FSSA issued a cease-and-desist notice to the daycare on Oct. 24.

A follow-up visit that same day found only five children in the house, so the daycare was allowed to continue operating as an unlicensed facility. That also meant Stacey Cox Child Care Center was outside state authority.

One mother who recently pulled her son out of the daycare told Fox59 Cox lied to her, saying the daycare was licensed.

“I’m thinking my son’s going to this fantastic daycare,” said Lindsay Luke. “She cares so much about the kids. I’m never worried about how many the ratio is because she’s licensed.”

For three months, Stacey Cox Child Care Center continued to operate without a license. Its website advertised room for more children in the home.

On Jan. 24, investigators responded to Conor Tilson’s death. On that day, a test revealed that Cox and Phillips were under the influence of marijuana. During two subsequent visits by an FSSA investigator in February, nobody answered the door at the home.

On Feb. 4, Carmel police sent an undercover officer posing as a mother who wanted to enroll her child. The officer said she observed unsafe conditions in the house. She also saw at least six children being cared for. The officer’s report to the state said she was told there was still room for her child to be enrolled.

Last Thursday, the state ordered an emergency closure of the daycare. The next day, the daycare’s website was still up and advertising room for three more children.

The Indiana Attorney General’s office is now on the case, working on behalf of the FSSA.

Cox will appear in Hamilton County Circuit Court on Wednesday.

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