Day care owner pleads guilty in drowning deaths of twin toddlers
She pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - A Knoxville day care owner charged in the drowning deaths of twin toddlers pleaded guilty in court Wednesday.
A grand jury indicted Jennifer Salley, the owner of OM Baby Childcare, on two counts of criminally negligent homicide after the toddlers died in the facility’s West Knoxville pool in the summer of 2018.
Salley was illegally operating the day care at her home. Just two months prior to the drowning officials had ordered her to stop running the child care operation without a license.
Salley was sentenced to a total of four years probation.
The victim’s family agreed with the sentence with the condition that she is never allowed to be in a position to supervise or care for children again and that Salley will be placed on the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services Severe Abuse Registry for the rest of her life.
An attorney read a victim impact statement from the parents before Salley’s sentencing. They said their most important goal is to protect other families by ensuring that Salley is barred from supervising children.
“On July 20th, 2018, our world was destroyed in one phone call. We had entrusted Jennifer Salley with the care of two of the most important things in our lives. Jennifer Salley failed our children that day. Her criminal neglect cost our children their lives and destroyed the family we knew. Her guilt goes far beyond the immeasurable pain of losing the twins. The trail of destruction she left is unfathomable. From the horrors of arriving on the scene and seeing EMS frantically perform CPR on our babies to our older sons walking into an ER room and watching their mother cradle their dead sister’s body...those images don’t disappear. The flashbacks and nightmares...do not go away. There is no punishment for Jennifer Salley that could or would ever equal the suffering our family will endure the rest of our lives due to her criminal conduct. No amount of jail time would turn back time. It wouldn’t bring Elyssa back. It wouldn’t bring Elijah back. It would not bring their laughs back. We have requested that the District Attorney’s office agree to this final and certain resolution because it will help protect other families. Ms. Salley’s acceptance of responsibility and guilty plea to the two permanent felony convictions as charged should deter others from engaging in this type of conduct in the future. Jennifer Salley remaining permanently on the DCS registry and the other conditions required by this resolution should also protect other children. We appreciate the hard work of the District Attorney’s office and the Knox County Sheriff’s Department which led to Ms. Salley accepting responsibility for these criminal offenses, and we also appreciate this Court’s consideration of this resolution. Our love for Elyssa and Elijah will remain unbounded and unending. The true joy we experienced as their parents is impossible to put into words. We cannot explain to the Court or to anyone the impact their loss will always have on our family.”
The twin toddlers named Elijah and Elyssa Orejuela were taken to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital after being found in a pool at OM Baby Childcare.
The parents of the twins said after arriving at the hospital they were met by a doctor who did everything he could.
“I begged him, I said bring my daughter back please, and he didn’t hesitate," said Enrique Orejuela. "He went back in there and worked. He wanted to save her, he did.”
WVLT Amanda Hara spoke with the toddler’s parents following the tragedy in 2018.
When asked if there were any red flags, Enrique Orejuela said, “As parents, you do the best you can to investigate.”
Their mother Amelia added that they found Salley on a Care.com advertisement.
She said she thought Care.com provided background checks on all the caregivers using the site. The site offers providers and parents the option to order different levels of background checks. On top of that, “One of the other parents was a police officer, and one was a physician ... I would think if they entrusted their care with her, I definitely didn’t see any red flags with that.”
The Orejuelas filed a federal lawsuit against Salley claiming that unsafe conditions and Salley’s lack of supervision led to the twins' deaths. The twins were unsupervised for so long, the suit said, that they managed to leave a bedroom, then the house, before getting into a pool.
The suit is asking for $17.48 million in compensatory damages.
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