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Former day-care operator pleads guilty in 7-year-old's death

Tianna Edwards pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the 2012 death of Isear Jeffcoat, who drowned in a pool.

Tianna Edwards
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FORMER DAY-CARE operator Tianna Edwards pleaded guilty yesterday to involuntary manslaughter in the death of a 7-year-old boy who drowned in a dirty, murky pool behind her mother's East Oak Lane home.

On June 29, 2012, Edwards had taken kids enrolled at her Tianna's Terrific Tots day care on Rising Sun Avenue near 13th Street in North Philly to her mom's house. Her mother, Emma Watson, wasn't home.

Edwards then left the scene and left the kids - six toddlers and 15 school-age kids - in the care of two day-care workers, who were untrained and unlicensed to care for children, Assistant District Attorney Brendan O'Malley said.

The older kids were playing in the dirty in-ground pool, which ranged from 3 to 9 feet deep, and the toddlers were dangling their feet in the "Jacuzzi" section, he said.

About 3 p.m., Van Williams, who was supervising the school-age kids, noticed that 7-year-old Isear Jeffcoat, was missing, O'Malley said in court at Edwards' plea hearing.

Williams then called Edwards, who returned to the house with her mother. No one could find little Isear. Police also were called and couldn't initially find him.

Nine hours into the search, Marine Unit police were called in. They dived into the murky pool and found Isear's body in an area 6 to 7 feet deep, O'Malley said.

Isear was determined by the Medical Examiner's Office to have died from an accidental drowning, the prosecutor said.

As O'Malley described Isear's injuries, the boy's mother held her face in her hands in the courtroom gallery and softly wept.

O'Malley told Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Minehart that when Edwards returned to the house and was interviewed by cops, she gave false statements, including a claim that the water was clear and that more adults had been watching the kids.

Michael Giampietro, Edwards' attorney, told the judge that "what happened that day was a tragic accident." As he sat at the defense table, he looked toward Isear's family in the gallery and said that Edwards wanted to apologize. "This was not a deliberate act," he said. "This was not intentional."

In addition to the involuntary-manslaughter charge, Edwards, 32, of Lawndale Street near Luzerne in Juniata Park, pleaded guilty to a count of endangering the welfare of children and welfare fraud.

Her welfare-fraud charge related to her applying for and receiving about $13,000 in public-assistance benefits, including food stamps, for a two-year period during which she earned about $182,000 in wages and wasn't eligible for such benefits, Assistant District Attorney Peter Berson told the judge.

In exchange for the plea, the D.A.'s Office is dropping the 20 other counts that Edwards faced of endangering the welfare of children and related offenses. She will be sentenced March 6.

Edwards wasn't supposed to have been allowed to run a day-care center, let alone two. She had a criminal history of retail thefts, false-identification and firearms-possession convictions and insurance fraud when she opened the first Tianna's Terrific Tots in 2008 on Germantown Avenue near Juniata Street in Nicetown and then the Rising Sun location in 2009.

She was able to obtain licenses to open and run the centers by forging her sister-in-law Nikita Smith's name as the owner and operator. She was punished for this in a separate federal case.

Edwards pleaded guilty in federal court in July to five counts of wire fraud for defrauding the state Department of Public Welfare of nearly $1.5 million. That amount consisted of state and federal funds she received from DPW from December 2008 to July 2012 to provide subsidized child care to eligible parents. Federal prosecutors allege that she used part of that money for retail, travel and gambling expenses.

She was sentenced in November by a U.S. District judge to five years and three months in prison, a sentence she is serving.

DPW had closed the Germantown Avenue day-care center in April 2012 for safety issues. Shortly after Isear drowned, the Rising Sun location was shuttered.