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Home day care operator admits hitting back of toddler’s head on coffee table and causing fatal brain injury, but avoids murder charge

Jessica Sims (L) and Lennox Santiago (R)

Jessica Sims, on the left, killed Lennox Santiago, on the right, in July 2019. (Screengrab via WSYR; Obituary)

An upstate New York home day care operator pleaded guilty on Thursday to killing a toddler nearly four years ago in order to avoid a more serious charge.

Jessica Sims, 27, of Mattydale, New York, accepted legal culpability for recklessly causing the death of 23-month-old Lennox Santiago at her home day care on Roxboro Circle in July 2019.

In an Onondaga County courtroom, Sims said she grabbed Santiago by his legs and swung him up in the air before swinging him back down again – causing the young boy’s head to hit a coffee table, according to The Post Standard, the local daily newspaper for the Syracuse area.

Sims called 911 on the day in question. Emergency crews arrived at the apartment to find the boy unconscious, but still breathing, and with a weak pulse, according to Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Sergeant Jon Seeber, the paper reports.

Santiago was rushed to a nearby Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse. He was treated and received surgery for severe brain trauma – to no avail. He succumbed to his injuries two days later.

According to the boy’s obituary, he “passed away peacefully on Friday after twenty three happy months” and is said to have “had an infectious smile and radiated love to everyone he met.”

The guilty plea on the lesser charge caps off a long and winding – back and forth – legal process that spanned several years.

Sims was originally charged with one count of manslaughter in the first degree, but a person who recklessly causes another person’s death in the Empire State — as Sims admitted doing here — is guilty of manslaughter in the second degree.

During the eight-month-long investigation, “her story changed on several occasions,” Seeber said at the time.

She was later also indicted on one count of murder in the second degree and two counts of perjury for lying two members of law enforcement. The defendant originally told police that the boy fell out of a chair and struck his head, but later admitted that she was responsible for his injury due to the swinging incident.

“The defendant grabbed the victim by his legs and swung his body in the air, then swung his body downward thereby striking the back of the victim’s head on a coffee table; which resulted in his death,” the indictment obtained by local NBC/CW affiliate WSTM alleged. “The defendant provided a false written statement to Deputy Grome of the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department, regarding how the victim was injured.”

At the time of the boy’s fatal injury, Sims was reportedly on probation for a DWI-related arrest that occurred in September 2017 when she allegedly drove her car over a pedestrian crosswalk that spans an interstate, through barricades, and a wooden fence, the Post Standard reported. That incident ended with the defendant being charged with driving while intoxicated, reckless endangerment, criminal mischief, reckless driving, and leaving the scene of an accident.

When Sims was indicted, Onondaga County Senior District Attorney and Chief of the Special Victims Bureau Jarrett Woodfork said the toddler’s death was “one of the most horrific instances that I’ve dealt with and that I’ve seen in my work here.”

During a hearing in April 2022, the judge overseeing the case reportedly held that Sims did not intentionally try to kill the boy but sustained the murder charge due to her deception and delays after the fact of his injury.

Sims is currently slated to be sentenced on June 8, a court spokesperson told Law&Crime.

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