Children were playing outside Footprints Preschool and Child Care this morning when a child ran up to one of the teachers and said something was wrong with a little girl, according to Pasco Sheriff's Office spokesman Kevin Doll.
When the teacher went to check on the 3-year-old, she found her unconscious, a tether ball rope wrapped tightly around her neck. There was no ball attached to it, Doll said. It wasn't immediately clear how the roped choked her.
The teacher removed the rope and began CPR but the girl, whose name had not been released late Thursday afternoon, never regained consciousness at the day care. But by 4 p.m. her condition had been upgraded to stable and she was breathing on her own, Doll said.
Pasco Fire Rescue got the call at 10:35 a.m. and paramedics rushed to 3715 U.S. 19, just south of State Road 54, where the girl was still not responding. She was flown by medical helicopter to All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg.
The day care went into lock down and Pasco deputies responded, putting up yellow crime scene tape around the entrance. Forensics investigators focused on the playground area. They took measurements and pictures of a tether ball pole.
It remained unclear Thursday why the tether ball wasn't attached to its rope. Day care employees declined to comment about the incident.
By 3:30 the tape came down and about a half-dozen parents raced to get inside to be reunited with their children.
Joe Chaplain, who has a 3-year-old son named Tristan at the day care, works for U.S. Water in Port Richey and heard a call over his company radio that an incident happened at the Footprints and rushed over around noon. His son was reportedly fine.
Terry Field, a Department of Children and Families spokesman, said the agency, which oversees day care licensing, is still trying to piece together exactly what happened. Investigators are looking into the day care's background.
"We're going through the file right now to see if anything stands out," Field said Thursday afternoon, adding that there have been no red flags about the facility in recent years. "We did not have any major concern with them."
In its most recent onsite inspection in March for license renewal, the playground at Footprints was found to be in compliance with regulations by the Florida Department of Children and Families.
Nearly two years ago, Footprints made the news when a disgruntled fired employee filed a false report with DCF that teachers at the preschool were abusing a 4-year-old boy. After the report was investigated and found to be untrue, the woman was charged with a third-degree felony for filing a false report.