At murder trial of day care provider, Eudora first responders detail attempts to revive baby
photo by: Nick Krug
Story updated 7:13 p.m. July 18, 2018:
Wednesday morning in Douglas County District Court, prosecutor C.J. Rieg opened a cardboard box, pulled out a tiny mannequin wearing a onesie and set it on the witness stand.
She asked Eudora Fire & EMS Department Chief Ken Keiter to demonstrate what he did when he was the first responder to reach an infant in cardiac arrest at a Eudora home day care on the afternoon of Sept. 29, 2016.
Keiter picked up the baby, cradling the infant mannequin in the crook of his right arm. He then simulated CPR, using two fingers to press on the sternum.
A rhythmic whoosh, whoosh, whoosh emitting from the mannequin filled the otherwise silent courtroom.
Keiter was among witnesses who took the stand on day three of the trial for Carrody M. Buchhorn, 44, of Eudora, charged with first-degree murder in the death of 9-month-old Oliver “Ollie” Ortiz, of Eudora. Prosecutors say Buchhorn was the only person with Oliver when his fatal injuries occurred at Sunshine Kids Group Daycare Home at 1307 Chestnut Lane.
Buchhorn was charged after the coroner ruled Oliver’s death a homicide, caused by blunt force trauma to the head and torso.
Buchhorn murder trial coverage
Rieg and defense attorneys pressed Keiter and other first-responder witnesses for medical details — their every move, everything they observed about Oliver and everything they saw other emergency responders do after reaching the baby that day.
Buchhorn’s attorneys, Paul Morrison and Veronica Dersch, have indicated in pretrial hearings that they intend to cast doubt on Buchhorn’s responsibility, in part by presenting evidence that something else could have caused Oliver’s fatal injuries.
Keiter said that when he got inside the day care, in the walk-out basement of the house, a woman inside — whom he said he couldn’t identify because of focusing on the baby — had Oliver in her arms and was performing CPR in an appropriate manner for an infant.
Within seconds, after getting his equipment out, Keiter took over CPR.
Keiter said Oliver’s color was still pinkish when he arrived, though his lips were blue, and he had no signs of stiffness or blood pooling that occurs when a person has been dead for a while — so performing CPR immediately was the appropriate response. Keiter said he didn’t observe any external injuries on Oliver.
Keiter said that even appropriate CPR is somewhat forceful — chest compressions should depress the torso one-third of the way — though, with babies, whose skeletons are still “pliable,” it’s less likely to dislocate ribs or break any bones.
Keiter said there would never be a reason to perform compressions on a person’s abdomen, and he did not see anyone do that.
Keiter said several other emergency personnel arrived shortly after and took over CPR for him.
He then switched to his leadership role, stepping outside to direct operations.
That’s where he encountered Oliver’s father, who had arrived at the scene.
“I basically told him that Oliver’s not breathing on his own, Oliver’s heart’s not beating, but we’re doing that for him right now through CPR,” Keiter said.
Keiter said he remembered this exchange keenly, and he appeared to become emotional when recounting it.
“Having to talk to a parent and tell them that their child is not breathing is not a real easy thing to do,” he said. “Dad was kind of numb and taking it all in; at that point, I don’t think he understood exactly what was going on.”
Nathan Stoermer, assistant fire chief of Eudora Fire & EMS, testified that he was off work the afternoon of Sept. 29, 2016.
But when he heard a call for an infant in cardiac arrest, he rushed to the scene. In the small town of Eudora, the address was only around a mile from Stoermer’s own house.
“I couldn’t stay at home on my day off and just listen to that happen,” Stoermer said. “So I responded.”
Stoermer also testified that, even after Oliver’s clothing was removed and responders rolled him back to front to put automated external defibrillator pads on him, he never saw signs of any outward injury.
A certified paramedic, Stoermer said that while others performed CPR, he placed an IV in Oliver to prep him for the ambulance that was en route.
An infant in cardiac arrest is an “intense” call for emergency responders, Stoermer said.
However, Stoermer also said he saw no one perform inappropriate interventions on the baby, drop him or hurt him in any way.
“We acted with a sense of urgency,” Stoermer said. “We were very quick and deliberate in our methods, but we were not dangerous or hurtful in any way.”
Stoermer said he saw a large, blood-filled bruise appear on Oliver’s head after he reached Lawrence Memorial Hospital, but that it had not been there earlier.
Rieg, the prosecutor, asked detailed questions about Stoermer’s observations and actions. Here is one of those exchanges:
“Did you see anybody punch him in the abdomen?”
“Did you see anybody step on his abdomen?”
“Did you see anybody do CPR on his abdomen, pushing his abdomen all the way to the floor through his organs?”
Oliver was never revived. After undergoing CPR at the day care, in the ambulance and at the hospital, he was pronounced dead.
The other first responders on the scene also testified, but they, too, never saw anything happen that could have injured Oliver after they arrived and en route to the hospital in the ambulance.
Oliver’s family doctor testified that he never exhibited out-of-the-ordinary injuries or demeanor problems in his checkups or doctor visits, which took place from the time he was a newborn until a few weeks before his death.
Day care owner testifies
The owner of the day care — and the only other adult with Oliver throughout the day he died — also testified Wednesday.
Gina Brunton, of Eudora, a day care operator of 26 years who finished her walk-out basement to house Sunshine Kids Group Daycare Home, said there were a total of 10 children there that day, ranging from about 8 months to 4 years old.
Oliver’s older brother attended Sunshine Kids until he went to kindergarten, and Oliver had been coming since he was close to two months old, Brunton said.
Oliver was a fussy baby who spit up a lot and had some ear infections, Brunton said. But she said that’s not unusual for a baby that age, and he had good and bad days.
Sept. 29, 2016, began as a good day.
“He was very happy, and he even waved ‘bye’ to his mama, which was something he hadn’t done much,” Brunton said.
Brunton said she primarily handled the older kids — including taking them outside to play before lunch — but that she and Buchhorn both helped feed and change Oliver that day.
Around 1 p.m., after Oliver and the other children were down for their afternoon naps, Brunton said she was alone with all the children for about 15 minutes while Buchhorn went to her own house to let her dogs out.
When Buchhorn returned, about 1:15 p.m., Brunton went upstairs to wash some items Oliver had spit up on and make herself lunch, leaving Buchhorn alone with the children again.
Brunton said she came downstairs briefly two other times during naptime. The first time, Buchhorn told her that Oliver had been fussing in his crib but that his diaper wasn’t dirty and that he’d gone back to sleep.
The second time, she saw Buchhorn, sitting cross-legged on the carpet where they changed the babies’ diapers, holding Oliver to her chest, bouncing and shushing him. Buchhorn told her that he’d dirtied his diaper and she’d just changed it.
Brunton said she was several feet away from Buchhorn and the lights were still off for naptime, but she didn’t notice Oliver move or hear him make any noise.
“Ms. Brunton, do you know if Oliver was OK at that point?” prosecutor Mark Simpson said.
“I do not,” Brunton answered.
Brunton said she went to another area of the day care and then back upstairs, and Buchhorn put Oliver back in his crib and started working on a bulletin board.
Around 3 p.m., all the other children had awoken and were getting ready for snacks. Buchhorn remarked that Oliver’s father would be there soon to pick him up, then went to get him out of his crib.
When Buchhorn walked out of the crib area, she was holding Oliver in front of her with his face and stomach facing out, Brunton said.
Buchhorn said something like, “What is he doing?” Brunton said.
“I looked up from what I was doing, saw his face and immediately knew something was wrong,” Brunton said. “His eyelids were blue. He did not look right. He was not responding … She didn’t seem to realize anything was wrong.”
Brunton yelled for Buchhorn to start CPR, then hustled the other children the other direction and called 911. She said she saw Buchhorn begin appropriate infant CPR on the floor, and that first responders — as well as Oliver’s father — all arrived in the “blur” that followed.
Buchhorn, Brunton’s only full-time employee, had been working for her for a year and a half or two years.
Brunton kept binders of paperwork for both herself and Buchhorn. Holding those binders on the witness stand, she confirmed that both included certifications in infant and child CPR, plus completion of an online course called “Recognizing child abuse and abusive head trauma.”
That night, Brunton called the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to report Oliver’s death, as required.
KDHE told her that she and Buchhorn “needed to get together and each do a timeline of the day,” Brunton said.
The next morning, the two women met back at the day care and discussed the day’s events, Brunton said. She said a close friend of hers came over, too, and helped them by typing their statements.
Brunton said that police collected both of those statements when they came to the day care later.
The trial is scheduled to last through July 25.
• March 21, 2017 — Investigation into death of infant at Eudora daycare nearing completion