A mother and daughter are being held accountable for the drowning deaths of two toddlers at their small home-based daycare center in the Almaden Valley, facing possible prison terms for their alleged negligence.
The California Department of Social Services, which approved the license for a daycare center with an in-ground pool and then failed to follow up on negative reports from several inspections, at this point shares no legal accountability.
Two days after two girls, ages 16 months and 18 months, drowned after walking through an open gate at the fenced pool in the backyard playground of Happy Happy Daycare Center in the 100 block of Fleetwood Drive in South San Jose, the social services department, according to Newsweek, initiated proceedings to revoke the daycare license and exclude the co-owners from employment in any state-licensed facility.
Two families are struggling to cope with the loss of two little girls. A two-year-old boy who was pulled from the water survived the drowning, a fourth child was taking a morning nap at the center at the time of the incident and another child had not yet arrived that fateful morning of Oct. 2.
Nina Fathizadeh, 41, and her 54-year-old mother, Shahin Gheblehshenas, the owners and operators of Happy Happy Daycare, turned themselves in at San Jose police headquarters on Oct. 13 after felony warrants had been issued for their arrest.
The Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office said Friday the two women will be arraigned Dec. 6 on felony child endangerment charges in connection with the deaths of two girls identified by police as 18-month-old Payton Alexandria Cobb, of Hollister, and 16-month-old Lillian Hanan, of San Jose.
The center has been closed and its state license is facing license revocation proceedings.
Prosecutors said in a statement Friday afternoon that neither Fathizadeh, Gheblehshenas or any other adult was watching the three toddlers when they fell or jumped into the pool where a five-foot fence had reportedly been left open.
“There is a responsibility to watch over little children in your care like a hawk,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement. “Now it is our responsibility to make sure that these defendants are held accountable for this avoidable and heart-breaking tragedy.”
Newsweek also reported that the drowning incident prompted the California Department of Social Services to issue a temporary license suspension order to Happy Happy Daycare on Oct. 4. Department spokesperson Theresa Mier said the owners were also assessed $11,000 in civil penalties by the social services department after the drownings.
Since Happy Happy Daycare obtained its license in early 2021, the daycare center has been cited six times, the records show, with state investigators finding the daycare was caring for too many infants at one time, not checking on infants enough during naps and allowing an adult employee to work without the proper criminal record clearance, among other concerns.
The backyard pool caused pre-licensing issues for the daycare, with state inspectors identifying concerns about the fencing surrounding the pool deck and the pool's access and visibility, but eventually approving the license, despite the risks. The owners at the time were directed to correct the issues to "ensure there is no immediate risk to the health and safety of the children in care," according to Newsweek.
In January, state inspectors reported the Happy Happy Daycare swimming pool was "fully fenced" with a fence at least five feet tall with a gate that "self-closes and has a self-latching device.”
Rosen said Fathizadeh had discovered a 2-year-old child floating and unconscious at approximately 9am Oct. 2 and called 911. The two other children were found floating unconscious in the deep end, Rosen said.
Prosecutors said Gheblehshenas was at another unlicensed daycare when the children drowned after they wandered through a propped open pool gate.
On arrival, police learned that four children were at the daycare center, with another on the way.
One daycare worker had called in sick and the children were being watched by Fathizadeh, according to prosecutors. Police said she told them that while making breakfast, she left one child in a crib and let three of the children into the rear patio play area unsupervised and out of her sight.
The District Attorney's Office said the play area was set up in the backyard adjacent to a pool surrounded by a 5-foot fence. Police found gardening equipment and other potential hazards in the backyard.
When Fathizadeh went into the yard, at least five minutes later, she found one of the children floating in the pool. As she attempted CPR, her brother -- at home and now alerted to the emergency -- found the two other children unconscious in the pool.
Investigators said they found the pool gate propped open, allowing the toddlers to enter the pool. Neither owner checked the gate before the children were let into the backyard, despite it being propped open several times previously to water plants.
Anyone with information about the case can contact Detective Sgt. Van Den Broeck or Detective Estantino of the San Jose Police Department's Homicide Unit via email at [email protected] and/or [email protected] or at (408) 277-5283.
Bay City News contributed to this report.