SAN JOSE — Details began to emerge Tuesday about the two toddlers who drowned a day earlier at a home day care facility in San Jose’s Almaden neighborhood as questions swirled among neighbors and child-safety advocates about whether anything could have been done to avoid the tragedy.
Two 1-year-old girls — identified by authorities Tuesday as Payton Cobb, of Hollister, and Lillian Hanan, of San Jose — were found in a pool at the Happy Happy Home Daycare and later pronounced dead after being taken to a hospital. A third child was found in the water with them and survived after being taken to a hospital.
Investigators continue to comb through evidence to determine whether criminal charges would be filed against the day care’s operators.
Officers and firefighters were called at 9:05 a.m. Monday for a welfare check after being told of “several children in a pool,” according to Steve Aponte, a San Jose police spokesperson. Two children were found in a state of “severe medical distress,” while another child was in the water when emergency workers arrived. All three were taken to hospitals.
Aponte did not release any update Tuesday on the condition of the third child.
Police said they were working with the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, as well as other local agencies, to determine whether anyone would be held criminally responsible for the deaths of the two children. Sean Webby, a spokesman for the DA’s office said prosecutors were “reviewing” the case.
“Nearly 24 hours after this incident, all of us are in shock,” Aponte said. “This is the type of call that is the worst a parent could receive.”
Neighbors expressed a mix of grief and confusion Tuesday that the small day care had turned into a crime scene. And child safety experts in California questioned whether anything could have been done to prevent the deaths — particularly given that drowning ranks as a leading cause of death for toddlers and young children in the United States.
Fleetwood Drive sat quiet in the morning — the community, neighbors said is filled with many young families, as evidenced by Halloween decorations hanging on several houses and children’s scooters lined up in front of a nearby home.
No one answered a knock at the door of the “Happy Happy Daycare.” Visible from the front of the house were multiple signs warning of surveillance cameras and signs warning about security alarms and a dog.
Happy Happy Home Daycare is licensed as a small family child care home by the California Department of Social Services. The license allows the facility to care for up to eight children at a time — though only four if they’re all under the age of 2.
State regulators have cited the day care multiple times over the past year for a variety of infractions — most recently for not properly documenting their checks on sleeping children under their care. They also were cited in January for having one too many infants at the house at one time.
Still, the day care’s owners appeared to quickly correct issues raised by state regulators, records show. And in a January visit, state officials noted the property’s pool met all of California’s requirements for such facilities — noting that the pool is surrounded by a five-foot-tall fence. The fence is made from a “hard mesh” material that lets those outside see into the pool area and has a self-closing and self-latching gate, according to the inspection report.
In 2017, state lawmakers passed legislation beefing up safety at new pools constructed across California — requiring that multiple measures be installed to keep children from accidentally falling into pools. While previously pool owners could have relied on just one safety mechanism, the law now requires them to implement at least two.
For example, newly constructed pools can no longer rely on just a fence to keep children out, said State Sen. Josh Newman, a Southern California Democrat, who sponsored the legislation. They now also need at least one additional measure, such as a pool cover or an alarm system for nearby doors.
“Redundancy is necessary,” Newman said Tuesday, adding that it makes sense for day cares to have more stringent standards than regular residences.
“I can only imagine the pain of all those families,” said Newman, who also authored legislation in 2022 that created a pilot program to collect more robust data on child drownings across the state. “When you drop your kid off at a licensed day care facility, that should be the last thing that could ever happen.”
But the law only applies to new pool owners. Existing pools at in-home day care centers, however, only need to be surrounded by a fence or a covering that can withstand the weight of an adult, according to the California Department of Social Services.
Others questioned the wisdom of even allowing swimming pools or other water features at in-home day cares. Doug Forbes, president of the Meow Meow Foundation, urged parents to reconsider placing children in such environments. He founded the foundation after his daughter drowned to death at a day camp, prompting his organization to seek reforms in the regulation of such camps
“You’re putting kids in a much higher-risk situation while under the supervision of folks that you don’t even know if they can swim,” Forbes said. “What kind of requirements should those adults meet in order to run a child-care operation with an aquatics environment? Drowning is fully preventive, full stop. And yet you had three kids who drowned, two fatally.”
Simply requiring a fence around a pool is not enough, Forbes said. He and other child-safety advocates suggested myriad other steps that could be required of day care providers to protect children, including the installation of alarms at doors leading to pools and camera systems to help parents monitor the area.
“A five-foot fence with a self-latching gate is not going to stop an industrious child,” Forbes said. “Those barriers are only as good as the adults who are policing them.”