Charges dropped in child’s death after day care injury; new charges possible

Posted at 10:22 AM, Nov 08, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-08 12:22:05-05
By Stephen Loiaconi

( — Saying that child endangerment charges no longer fit, prosecutors have dropped all charges against an Iowa day care provider accused of fatally injuring a 3-year-old girl because the child would not take off her coat.

However, Rochelle Sapp, 33, could face new charges related to Autumn Elgersma’s October 31 death once investigators receive final autopsy results, Iowa Department of Public Safety Special Agent in Charge Mitch Mortvedt said.

A cause and manner of death have not officially been determined yet, Mortvedt said Thursday, and additional laboratory testing could take two to four weeks.

Sapp had been charged with child endangerment resulting in serious injury and willful injury to a child. At the request of Sioux County Attorney Coleman McAllister, a judge dismissed those charges without prejudice Wednesday.

“Further investigation is needed before the State can initiate new charges arising out of the death” of Autumn Elgersma, McAllister wrote in the motion to dismiss.

According to court documents, Sapp was caring for Autumn in her Orange City home on the morning of October 29. She allegedly called the girl’s mother around 9:10 a.m. and told her Autumn had fallen down the stairs.

Autumn’s mother went to Sapp’s house to pick her daughter up and took her to a local hospital, a probable cause affidavit states. Autumn was diagnosed with a head injury and airlifted to Sanford Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Doctors there diagnosed Autumn with a skull fracture and brain swelling. She died two days later.

The motion to dismiss the charges alleges that the injuries suffered in Sapp’s care led to Autumn’s death.

After examining Autumn, Sanford Hospital staff contacted police because her injuries were not consistent with Sapp’s alleged explanation, according to the affidavit.

Sapp was then interviewed by Orange City police. The affidavit alleges that Sapp admitted to causing Autumn’s injuries by throwing her to the floor because she would not take off her coat.

Mortvedt said Thursday that once Autumn died, the original charges no longer could be applied to the circumstances of the case. It is now a death investigation, although the death has not been ruled a homicide.

According to Mortvedt, medical examiners are still performing lab tests, and it could still be weeks before results are in.

“We’re at the mercy, so to say, of the medical examiner’s office,” Mortvedt said.

Attempts by HLN to reach Sapp for comment on the case were unsuccessful, and court records did not indicate whether she has retained an attorney.

A celebration of life service was held for Autumn on Tuesday at the Calvary Christian Reformed Church in Orange City.

“We would have liked to see her grow up, go to kindergarten, be involved in more of the ministries of this church, as of course her parents must feel much more,” the Rev. John Klompien said at the service, according to KTIV.

Autumn loved church, “Jesus music” and spending time with her family and friends, according to her obituary.

“Some of her favorite things were riding her trike, playing games, watching Dora, and playing dress-up with her best friend,” the obituary states.

Autumn’s parents, Phillip and Jennifer Elgersma, also released a statement after her death:

“Our family is deeply saddened by the loss of our little girl. The prayers offered by others on our behalf are giving us the strength to get through this very difficult time. Autumn was a joy in our lives and we are blessed to have called her ours. We take comfort in the fact that she is now with her Savior, Jesus Christ. We ask for your continued thoughts and prayers for our family.”

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