Former Tippecanoe Co. child care provider sentenced

Booking photo shows Debra Keyes. (Photo Provided/Tippecanoe County Sheriff's Office)

TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) — A former child care provider in Tippecanoe County has been sentenced after a baby in her care died of suffocation.

Debra Keyes, also known as Debbie Houchin, was sentenced Wednesday to 1½ years on both counts – reckless supervision by a child care provider, a Level 6 felony, and operating a child care home without a license, a Class B misdemeanor. Six months of her sentence will be executed in the Tippecanoe County Jail. She will then spend a year on supervised probation.

She had pleaded guilty to both charges in January.

The incident happened in April 2016, when medics were called to a home day care on Shenandoah Drive for a report of a 13-month-old child not breathing. The day care was run by Keyes, who admitted to police it was not licensed.

According to court documents, Keyes also admitted the wooden crib she used for the child’s nap was broken.

Keyes said she laid the baby in a crib for a nap and when she came back more than two hours later, the child wasn’t breathing.

A forensic pathologist performed the autopsy on the child and found the cause of death to be mechanical asphyxia.

The child’s parents read statements during Wednesday’s sentencing. The mother, Stephanie Valenta, said she went back to Keyes house two weeks after her daughter’s death – and saw that Keyes was still running the day care. Valenta said this was a “slap in the face.”

According to Keyes’ mental health therapist, she hasn’t been able to eat, sleep and has had flashbacks to the day she found the baby. Judge Sean Persin said because of her lack of stability, she is unfit to watch children. He ordered that she no longer be allowed to watch children for money.