The death of a 9-month-old boy who suffocated Monday night after being left unattended in a car seat inside a closet was ruled an accident Tuesday by the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office.
Officials said the child, identified by the medical examiner as John Norris, was one of nearly a dozen children being cared for Monday night at an unlicensed day care inside a home on the 600 block of Woodpecker Lane in Northwest Fort Worth.
Investigators determined the caretaker placed the child in the car seat, and then inside a walk-in closet, so that he could sleep. When the caretaker later checked on the boy, he was deceased.
Police said it appears Norris died in his sleep after sliding down in the car seat and suffocating.
"It appears the bottom belt strap was not properly connected/inserted and the child slid down the seat. The infant's neck was caught between the car carrier chest buckle that was fastened and the child appears to have suffocated by means of the buckle and strap mechanism," Brad Perez, Fort Worth police spokesman, said in a written statement. "We caution parents of small infants and toddlers to always strap your child in their car seats and carriers as per the manufacturer’s guidelines, and always watch them closely when seated and never leave them unattended."
Norris' mother, who works in the service industry, was at work at the time.
The Child-Care Licensing Division of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said they are still investigating the child's death and the child care arrangement. Officials said the caregiver has been instructed to stop caring for any children while the investigation is ongoing.
Meanwhile, Child Protective Services is assessing the safety of the children who live in the caregiver's home. CPS said they have had prior contact with the caregiver's family.
Police initially said they do not believe the death involved foul play, though it's not clear if any charges will be filed in the case. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, homicide investigators and Crimes Against Children are all investigating the boy's death.
"Child Care Licensing urges parents to seek regulated child care providers for their children. Providers who are regulated have gone through background checks and receive training on child health and safety issues. They are also inspected on a regular basis to make sure they are complying with the minimum standards for child care," the department said in a statement. "There are nearly 6,400 licensed or registered in-home daycares and over 9,400 daycare centers in Texas."
Online: Search for a regulated childcare operation or check the inspection history of their daycare at txchildcaresearch.org