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Sunday, April 20, 2014

State orders day care closed after owner arrested

BY LORI YOUNT
The Wichita Eagle

A Wichita day care center is closed after its owner allegedly drove children around town while she was intoxicated and didn't have a valid driver's license, according to a license suspension order by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Margaret E. Walker, 49, of Derby, was arrested by police on Friday because they suspected she was driving under the influence, according to reports. She was driving a vehicle with seven children from her day care, the Creative Connections Learning Center at 11818 W. Central, the report said.

No injuries were reported.

Criminal charges have not been filed. Wichita police spokesman Gordon Bassham said he expects that charges could be filed today.

The day care center's closing leaves nearly 50 children's families searching for alternative child care and about five staff members out of a job, according to Child Start, an agency that provides parents with information on state-licensed day care centers.

Police started searching for Walker on Friday morning, when day care staff called because she came to the center "smelling strongly of alcohol," the suspension notice states. Walker left before police arrived.

Employees called the police back when Walker showed up again, this time taking seven children with her in the company vehicle for a field trip, according to the suspension order. Police said they found a bottle of vodka in Walker's purse, which she left behind at the day care.

Officers were waiting for Walker when she returned to the day care's parking lot shortly after 11 a.m., according to a police report. Police said they learned Walker drove children to school in the morning and was driving with a suspended license.

She was booked into jail on Friday but was released by Monday, police said.

Walker has 15 days from Friday to file a request for a hearing to appeal the license suspension order before it becomes final.

The day care employees won't be subject to action by the health department because the agency only licenses day care facilities, not its care workers, said Kristi Pankratz, KDHE spokeswoman.

Wichita-based Child Start didn't have a significantly higher call volume for referrals on Monday, and no parents specifically mentioned the Creative Connections Learning Center closing, said Clairissa Maddy, senior manager of the call center.

She said she heard of the license suspension from a teacher at the day care center, who is now unemployed.

Even emergency license suspensions usually aren't so sudden, and Maddy said the magnitude of the allegations is rare.

Day care centers are experiencing problems with too many vacancies, with local layoffs changing the dynamics a family's child care needs, Maddy said. The displaced families shouldn't have much trouble finding a place to go, she said.

"Forty to 50 children could be absorbed in the child care system pretty easily," Maddy said.

There are child care providers willing to serve as backups when other centers can't stay open, she said.

But Child Start can only point parents in the direction of day cares that are licensed by KDHE, which Walker's center was from June 2008 until Friday.

It's up to the parents to research the quality of a day care, Maddy said.

Reach Lori Yount at 316-268-6269 or lyount@wichitaeagle.com.

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