State failed to take license of daycare provider after child died in her care

TRAPPE, Md. - He lays beneath the shade of an old tree, surrounded by his favorite toys and protected by a night light that keeps out the dark.  At the center of a cemetery on the Eastern Shore is where you'll find Trevor Ulrich. 

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Strangers and friends leave soft bears and silk flowers at his grave, hoping to comfort a silent baby boy and his grieving parents.  But comfort is hard to come by for Kelly Ulrich,  "There are times when I feel him."

Ulrich says she feels the presence of the little boy she was able to hold for just nine precious months.  Baby Trevor was on the earth as long as he was in his mother's belly.  It was a place Kelly could protect him.  She soon found the outside world, was not, telling us, "It took a lot of therapy for me to get over the guilt that came with putting him in daycare and essentially putting him in the hands of the woman that killed him."

Trevor Ulrich was in someone else's hands just two days before he died September 3 rd, 2009.  His short life, instead of being happily drawn out in the pages of a baby book, has been gruesomely detailed in a criminal case file.  Inside the file crime scene photos, autopsy reports and police interviews lay out the case to convict Trevor's caregiver, Gail Dobson. 

In an interview with Maryland State Police obtained by ABC2 Investigators, Dobson claimed she did not kill Trevor.  But in August 2010, a jury disagreed, handing down a guilty verdict for second degree murder and first degree child abuse in Trevor's death.  The autopsy for Trevor lists his cause of death as blunt impact head trauma. 

For Kelly Ulrich the verdict is shallow justice, "To me she is still a monster.  She's the woman who abused my son, who repeatedly beat him on the back of the head with something to the point where his brain swelled and he died.  To me she is a cold hearted killer."

Dobson is now a convicted killer serving 20 years in a state prison.  But long before that decision was made, she was simply a child care provider with decades of experience and barely a blip on her record.  And even when Trevor died after being injured in her care, ABC2 Investigators have learned the state's Office of Child Care didn't take away her ability to continue watching children.

ABC2 Investigators obtained the disciplinary file for Gail Dobson from the Office of Child Care, which oversees providers.  The state conducts an investigation any time there's a death of child in care, but the file shows an OCC rep didn't conduct a site visit at the Trappe home where Dobson lived and provided care until September 9th.  That's a full six full days after Trevor died.

But the state may have known sooner about Trevor's case because in her interview with Maryland State Police, Dobson told detectives she contacted the state September 2 nd.  That was the day Trevor was taken from her home by ambulance.  In that recorded interview Dobson says, "The first thing I did last night was report it to licensing and they called me first thing this morning."

The OCC originally didn't respond when we asked when it knew of Trevor's death or when licensing received its first call about his case.  On Thursday, 91 days after making a Public Information Act request for any and all documents related to Dobson's case, the OCC supplied a set of documents we'd never seen.  It indicated a case worker was alerted about Trevor's situation the morning after he left Dobson's house in an ambulance.  But even after a representative interviewed Dobson, her license still wasn't suspended.  

The file documents show Dobson gave her licensing specialist details about Trevor's last hours in care.  She told the specialist she heard gurgling coming from the playpen and thought Trevor was choking.  The record shows that when Dobson picked him up, Trevor was limp.  Dobson later told State Police she called Kelly Ulrich first to report the problem, then dialed 9-1-1.  In her recorded interview with MSP, Dobson says, "I was just in a panic state.  I mean they teach us all these things and we have all these classes and I'm just like I don't know."

But we do know about disciplinary action.  In Dobson's case there was no closure, no emergency suspension, no action.  Instead her case file shows a violation for having too many infants in care the day Trevor was hurt.  For Kelly Ulrich, it is heartbreaking, "I cannot believe they let her stay open."

Even though Dobson was repeatedly interviewed by MSP homicide detectives, the OCC file shows Dobson still had the option to care for children for 32 days following Trevor's death.  Even then, the state didn't take her license, Dobson surrendered it.

Dobson's disciplinary file indicates she voluntarily handed in her license after being told Maryland State Police would be charging her in the death of Trevor Ulrich.  His mother believes the case points to a flaw in the system, saying, "I just think anytime (a case of harm) is being investigated, she should have been shut down."

And the Office of Child Care had the discretion to shut down Dobson's option to care for children.  As ABC2 Investigators have discussed in prior stories, state regulations give the agency the power to take action when there is a threat of harm to children.

We wanted to talk with OCC Director Liz Kelley about why no action was taken in the Ulrich case.  The agency told us it would be inappropriate to comment because Dobson is preparing for an appeal.

The silence on her son's case has been torture for Kelly Ulrich, who says she's now fighting to change state regulation.  She says, "We need to be those children's voices and shut that person down, figure out what happened and go from there."

Ulrich would like to see emergency closures become mandatory for any provider being investigated following the death of a child in care.  It's a battle she wants to fight as she welcomes a new baby into her life, another little boy.  She says, "This baby gives us hope again.  It's still very hard.  It's a little boy and I can't help but think of Trevor.  I think part of him will be with this baby as well and I do think he's watching over."

We contacted the Family Child Care Association, which represents in-home child care providers like Gail Dobson, to ask whether they'd support changes to the state regulation.  They did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The Maryland State Child Care Association, which represents child care centers, told us it supports the idea of removing any parties involved in potential harm of a child until an investigation is complete.

Gail Dobson's attorney did not want to discuss specifics about her case.  He tells ABC2 he will ask for a new trial during a post-conviction hearing scheduled for February, claiming failures by her previous attorneys didn't give her a fair chance at acquittal.  While he couldn't say whether Dobson continued to care for children following Trevor's death, he indicated if she did the children would not have been at risk.


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