KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Jennifer Salley, the operator of OM Baby daycare where twin toddlers drowned last summer, has been indicted on two counts of Criminally Negligent Homicide. Salley is out on a $50,000 bond.
On Friday, June 7, WVLT News asked the Knox County District Attorney's Office whether a babysitter who was found operating without a license will face criminal charges after twin toddlers died in her care.
WVLT News Anchor Amanda Hara asked Public Information Officer Sean McDermott whether a criminal investigation was opened in relation to the drowning deaths of Elijah and Elyssa Orejuela. McDermott said, "I cannot comment on pending investigations."
McDermott's statement came one day after WVLT News broke the news that the toddlers' parents filed a lawsuit against Jennifer Salley for compensatory damages.
The parents' lawyer, Wayne A. Ritchie II, released a statement to WVLT News Anchor Amanda Hara.
"Those who care for children have a responsibility that cannot be shirked. The pain and terror these children endured as they lost their lives haunts these parents, as it would any parent. The family hopes this case brings accountability and prevents other families from having to endure such a tragedy.”
Elijah and Elyssa Orejuela were found in the pool of Jennifer Salley's West Knoxville daycare July 20, 2018, while their parents were at work.
On July 20, 2018, deputies with the Knox County Sheriff's Office responded to the home of Jennifer Salley on Fox Lonas Drive. Twins Elijah and Elyssa Orejuela were pulled from the deep end of Salley's pool. Both died.
Salley had been the twins' caretaker and had operated a daycare called Om Baby out of a residence since 2015, according to investigators. At the time of the drownings, Salley's own two children were in the custody of family members.
Now, the parents of the twins, Enrique Orejuela and Amelia Wieand, have filed a federal lawsuit against Salley. In the suit, the parents claim that unsafe conditions and Salley's lack of supervision led to the twins' deaths. The twins were unsupervised for so long, the suit said, that they managed to leave a bedroom, then the house, before getting into a pool. The suit is asking for $17.48 million in compensatory damages. Salley has a hearing in this case on June 12.
Salley had a troubled history. Just two months before the twins drowned, investigators told her to stop operating her daycare without a license. State officials said she had been advertising on Care.com as a licensed daycare provider when she had no license.
The parents of the twins said they had found Salley on a Care.com advertisement. Amelia told WVLT News that she thought the website provided background checks on all caregiver candidates. On top of that, "One of the other parents was a police officer, and one was a physician ... I would think if they entrusted their care with her, I definitely didn’t see any red flags with that," she said.
Salley has since relocated to Houston, Texas.
The Tennessee Attorney General's Office is now working with Care.com to stop the advertisement of unlicensed and deceptive daycare facilities; however, the AG's office did not point to any one particular infant death or deaths as for reason behind the initiative.
The parents of the twins hoped that they would be remembered in spite of their deaths. "As a mother, you love your children, but when other people love your children, it makes you feel even better that it was more than just you -that the community loved them just as much," Amelia said.
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