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Daycare Operator Provided Sweatshirt That Accidentally Strangled 2-Year-Old

July 22, 2008

SAN JOSE, Calif. _ As daycare provider Harold Taylor led the toddlers to the play structure in his chilly backyard, he asked his wife, Bertha, to grab the sweaters. She pulled out an old blue hooded sweatshirt that her grown son had worn 20 years ago, and put it on 2-year-old Coby Hofmann.

It had a drawstring at the hood — a drawstring that, while Coby was going down the slide, strangled him.

In dramatic and tearful testimony Monday, Harold Taylor spoke publicly for the first time about the May 21 death that led the state to shut down the center at the Taylors’ home off McKee Road in east San Jose, Calif. It had been operating for nearly 20 years.

“This was devastating,” Harold Taylor said. “They’re like my children. In my heart they are.”

Taylor, 73, and his wife are fighting to re-open their home, and the couple has received tremendous support from parents, including Coby’s mom and dad, who have all written letters on their behalf.

Jeff Hofmann, who plans to testify Wednesday, told the San Jose Mercury News on Monday that he and his wife fully support the Taylors and plan to send their newborn son to the daycare in the fall.

“We believe in them and know they are good people,” Hofmann said in a phone interview after the hearing. “It was an accident. Being angry with people, being enraged or suing, it’s not going to bring Coby back.”

Since Coby’s death, the state has alerted daycare providers to beware of the dangers of clothing with drawstrings. Even though it was Bertha Taylor who pulled out the old sweatshirt for Coby, Hofmann says he appreciates that “she gave him the jacket because he was cold.”

Besides, he said, some stores still sell hooded sweatshirts with cords.

“We consider them family and if it had been my father or mother, what are you going to do?” Hofmann said. “These people are family.”

At Monday’s hearing, two other parents and a grandparent sat through the daylong proceeding to show their support.

“They’re not fighting for themselves. They’re fighting for our babies,” said parent Julissa Melo. “My baby wants to go back and he doesn’t understand why he can’t.”

Nancy Miller, whose grandson attended the Taylors’ home day care, said, “it’s a tragedy that could happen anywhere to anyone.”

But Kimberly Kim, lawyer for the state Department of Social Services, told the administrative law judge that the Taylors’ daycare license should be revoked.

In her opening statement Monday, she said that Harold Taylor was “busy in the garden area of the backyard from which he could not see the slide part of the wooden structure.”

A 5-year-old girl told authorities shortly after Coby’s death that she first noticed the boy on the slide and “it looked like he was choking,” Kim recounted. The girl ran over to the wooden structure from a tree house about 25 feet away, Kim said, and “with help from the other kids, pulled Coby up the slide to the top of the structure.”

The girl said that Coby “was purple” and would not wake up, Kim said. That’s when she “yelled to Harold.”

Harold Taylor testified that he rushed to the structure — he was just 10 to 15 steps away — and lifted the 2-year-old’s limp body from the wooden platform. But he was stopped by the cord from the old blue sweatshirt that was caught between the slats. Taylor snapped the cord and ran into the house to perform CPR.

The child was pronounced dead at the hospital at 12:37 p.m. The cause of death was asphyxiation, according to the coroner.

“It’s two months later and I still cry every day,” Taylor said. “It’s hard for me to even go on. These kids are my kids. I’ve had Coby his whole life.”

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(c) 2008, San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.).

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