Day care probed after toddlers found on train tracks
“State regulators are looking into incident in which kids wandered off unnoticed.”
State regulators are investigating how two toddlers managed to escape from the sight of Anaheim daycare workers and wound up on nearby railroad tracks, where they were spotted by neighbors who alerted police.
The children were outside the grounds of the Anaheim YMCA Children’s Station at 100 S. Atchison St. Thursday afternoon during group playtime when staff members noticed them missing during a routine headcount, said John Guastaferro, a YMCA spokesman.
Rosie Mendez, 36, said her son, 2-year-old Eric Beder Mendez, got out onto the railroad tracks with another 2-year-old boy. She said she arrived at the daycare center shortly after 5 p.m. on Thursday, unaware that her toddler was missing.
“I usually see him there playing on the playground, but this time I didn’t,” Mendez said. “I figured he would be in the classroom.” He wasn’t there either.
That is when a staff member told Mendez that her child was somehow lost at 3 p.m., while daycare staff was outside with the children, and that police apparently had Eric and the other boy.
Police arrived moments later, with Eric, unharmed, though dirty.
“The cop told me ‘I’m not a believer, but I believe someone was watching over these kids’,” Mendez said.
Mendez, who works for Anaheim Housing Authority, said no one from Children’s Station called her. Neither did the police, although Anaheim police spokesman Sgt. Rick Martinez said police drove around the area trying to figure out where the toddlers belonged.
“I was in shock, I didn’t know how to react,” Mendez said.
The tracks are used by the Metrolink commuter rail service, which runs trains about every half-hour on weekday afternoons.
A daycare staff member showed Mendez the area where the boys escaped a broken wire fence that runs parallel to the tracks, on the north side of the daycare building, which used to be a railroad station.
Anaheim police received two phone calls about toddlers on the tracks Thursday, including one at 4:23 p.m. from a man and a woman at 700 E. Sycamore St., Martinez said. The couple stayed with the children until police arrived.
Guastaferro said the boys were missing no longer than 30 minutes.
“We want to assure our parents that every safety protocol and procedure is currently being reviewed with all staff to ensure the continued safety of our children,” Guastaferro said.
Guastaferro confirmed that the children were not inside daycare property, which is just north of Citrus Park, although he did not specify where the children were during playtime.
There is a grassy area nearby, close to the wire fence, where parents said the children play sometimes.
The daycare is working with the state’s Community Care Licensing Division of the Department of Social Services to investigate the incident.
Lizelda Lopez, a Department of Social Services spokeswoman, said the division is looking into the incident and cannot comment until an investigation is completed.
Parents who bring their children to the daycare center were informed Friday by letter explaining that there was an incident involving two children and that they were unharmed, although the letter did not specify what happened.
On Monday morning, several parents learned of the incident for the first time.
Darlene Gilchrist, who walked her year-and-a-half-year-old son to daycare, was shocked to read the letter for the first time Monday morning.
“That’s scary,” Gilchrist said as she looked over the letter. “That makes my hair stand up.”
Josie Gutierrez, who brings her 7-month-old daughter to Children’s Station, hadn’t heard about the missing boys until Monday.
“That’s not good. That means the assistants weren’t looking,” said Gutierrez.
Children’s Station, located in what used to be the Union Pacific Railroad Station in Anaheim, serves children between 2 months and 6 years old. Ninety children are served daily between 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., according to its Web site.
The site has five rooms: for infants, toddlers, those who have been potty-trained and preschoolers. The program is subsidized to provide low-cost and no-cost service to families.
Wenchi Mellon, an accountant and mother of Emily, who will be 2 next month, also got her hands on the letter on Monday.
“It’s a hard job we just have one (child) and that’s exhausting,” Mellon said. “We really appreciate the job the staff does.”
Joel Zlotnik, a spokesman for the Orange County Transportation Authority, said the agency owns the right of way to the train tracks.
Metrolink workers are typically charged with inspecting fences and performing maintenance, Zlotnik said, but OCTA crews performed a temporary fix of the fence on Monday.
A more permanent fix is scheduled for today.
Guastaferro said daycare staff set up cones and tied the fence closed as a temporary measure over the weekend.
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