A local woman was in court Monday after police said she caused the Jan. 24 death of Harper Rose Briar, a 6-month-old Pittsford girl.
According to an affidavit filed in the case, Stacey L. Vaillancourt caused the baby’s death by giving her Benadryl, an over-the-counter antihistamine used for treating allergies.
Vaillancourt, 53, of Rutland, pleaded not guilty Monday in Rutland criminal court to felony charges of manslaughter and cruelty to a child resulting in death. She was released on a $25,000 unsecured appearance bond and was ordered not to have contact with children younger than 5 except for her own grandchild.
About 35 people in the courtroom wore pink T-shirts with a photo of Briar on the back and the words, “Justice for Harper Rose.” When Vaillancourt entered the courtroom, several of the attendees cried.
Police were standing in the back of the courtroom, but there were no disruptions.
Detective Trooper Seth Richardson, of the Vermont State Police, said in an affidavit that Rutland City Police were contacted by staff from Rutland Regional Medical Center at 4:15 p.m. on Jan. 24 about Briar’s death.
Briar had been taken from Vaillancourt’s in-home daycare center on North Street to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Briar’s mother, Marissa Colburn, 21, told police that her pregnancy and Briar’s birth, on July 24, were normal. She said her daughter was generally healthy, although she was a poor sleeper and would usually only sleep if she was being held.
Blake Briar, 21, Harper Briar’s father, gave a similar description of his daughter being healthy but a poor sleeper. Both Colburn and Blake Briar said they hadn’t given their daughter any medication and weren’t aware of anyone else giving her medication.
The affidavit said Vaillancourt had a certificate from the Vermont Department for Children and Families that allowed her to operate a home-based daycare business.
Colburn told police she first brought Harper Briar to Vaillancourt’s daycare on Jan. 22. She said on Jan. 23, Harper Briar seemed sleepier than normal, and at times that seemed unusual.
Colburn told police she dropped her daughter off early on Jan. 24.
“Ms. Colburn completed her college classes early this day and began to travel to (Vaillancourt’s) to pick Harper up. While traveling to (Vaillancourt’s), Ms. Colburn received a text message from (Vaillancourt) stating something along the lines of ‘baby sick, go to the hospital, ambulance here.’ Ms. Colburn advised she immediately called (Vaillancourt) and that an EMT answered (Vaillancourt’s) phone. The EMT notified Ms. Colburn, Harper was found not breathing and was being transported to the hospital,” Richardson wrote in the affidavit.
Vaillancourt told police on Jan. 24 there were no unusual problems until she found that Harper Briar wasn’t breathing and asked her son to administer CPR.
On March 13, police received the results of an autopsy that said Harper Briar’s death was a homicide caused by diphenhydramine intoxication. Diphenhydramine is commonly available as Benadryl and sometimes in other over-the-counter cold medicines.
The autopsy said diphenhydramine is not to be used in infants and no other substances were found.
“The level of diphenhydramine in Harper Briar’s blood at the time of death represents more than one therapeutic dose. The blood concentration at time of death may represent one large administration or multiple small administrations,” the autopsy report said.
The report said the fact that diphenhydramine was found in Briar’s stomach indicated it was given to her within a couple of hours of her death.
The affidavit does not say whether police questioned Vaillancourt about the diphenhydramine, but said Vaillancourt was (the) “sole person to provide care and supervision preceding and leading up to Harper’s death.”
During Vaillancourt’s arraignment, Rutland County State’s Attorney Rose Kennedy asked Judge Cortland Corsones to set bail at $50,000, though she acknowledged Vaillancourt had no previous record.
“In this affidavit of probable cause, the state is alleging that (Vaillancourt) sedated an otherwise beautiful, happy, healthy 6-month-old to the point that that baby could not lift her head and it died. From the state’s perspective, that is about as serious a charge as we see in Vermont.”
Attorney Robert P. McClallen, who represents Vaillancourt, said his client had run the daycare for about 25 years but said she voluntarily shut the business down after Briar’s death.
After the hearing, McClallen declined to comment.
Several people wearing the pink T-shirts also declined to comment. Kennedy said they were family and friends of Harper Briar and Briar’s family.
“On behalf of the family, I know they’re just looking for privacy,” Kennedy said.
If Vaillancourt is convicted of the manslaughter charge, she would face a mandatory minimum penalty of one year in jail and up to 15 years in jail. For the cruelty to a child charge, Vaillancourt would face up to 10 years in jail, if convicted.