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Daycare owner gets house arrest after toddler's near-drowning in backyard pool

Waylon Saunders recovered in a London, Ont., hospital after falling into an outdoor pool at a home daycare in Petrolia on Jan. 24, 2023. (Gillian Burnett - image credit)
Waylon Saunders recovered in a London, Ont., hospital after falling into an outdoor pool at a home daycare in Petrolia on Jan. 24, 2023. (Gillian Burnett - image credit)

The woman who ran a home daycare in Petrolia, Ont., where a toddler almost drowned falling into a backyard pool in the winter has been sentenced to house arrest and other restrictions.

Paula Maness, 51, pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing bodily harm and was sentenced by a judge in Sarnia Friday.

Maness claimed responsibility for her actions that saw 20-month-old Waylon Saunders walk out her door on Jan. 24, 2023, and fall into an in-ground pool that was not fenced in.

Photos submitted as evidence show snow and ice across the pool deck and deep icy water filling the plastic cover across the hole.

The swimming pool in the backyard of Paula Maness' home in Petrolia, Ont. did not have  a fence separating it from the house.
The swimming pool in the backyard of Paula Maness' home in Petrolia, Ont. did not have a fence separating it from the house.

The swimming pool in the backyard of Paula Maness' home in Petrolia, Ont. did not have a fence separating it from the house. (Submitted as evidence to Superior Court of Justice)

For three hours, the toddler had no pulse, with the court records detailing how his body temperature had fallen from 32 C to 18 C.

When he was discharged from the Paediatric Neuro Trauma Team in London, Waylon was "medically stable" but doctors said, "he remains at a high risk of ongoing seizure activity, and he continues to take medications." They also said the extent of the impact of the near-drowning may not be known for years.

Maness was given a conditional sentence of two years, less a day, by Ontario Superior Court Justice George King. Half of her sentence will be spent under house arrest, with a curfew imposed later.

Inside the home

The agreed statement of facts presented in court showed that Maness was operating a legal unlicensed daycare the day Waylon fell into the pool, with a maximum number of five children in her care.

The records stated the toddler's mother expressed concerns about the pool to Maness, saying she worried her 3-year-old daughter, who was also in the daycare, could open the door to access it.

The daycare was operating out of this house in Petrolia, Ont.
The daycare was operating out of this house in Petrolia, Ont.

The daycare was operating out of this house in Petrolia, Ont. (Andrew Lupton/CBC News)

"[Maness] told her that the back door was so heavy that she wouldn't be able to open it. It was [the mother's] understanding that there was no way the children could get into the backyard," the court records stated.

But on the day Waylon fell into the pool, Maness said she had the backdoor propped open to air out the basement following a flood. Witnesses who first attended the scene confirmed the door was open.

Police investigators also told the courts that the home at 4076 Juniper Crescent was in a "state of complete disarray."

They said there were no baby gates on any of the stairs, no working smoke detectors, the electrical outlets were not childproof, and one outlet in the hallway was broken with exposed wires. Upstairs, investigators found the carpet had been removed exposing carpet tack strips.