San Jose: Daycare owners charged in child pool deaths speak out

San Jose: Daycare owners charged in child pool deaths speak out

SAN JOSE — For the first time since they were charged with the drowning deaths of two children in their care, a mother-daughter team of Almaden-area daycare owners is publicly addressing the tragedy that grabbed the entire region’s attention last fall.

Shahin Gheblehshenas, left, and Nina Fathizadeh appear in the Santa Clara County Hall of Justice in San Jose, Calif., Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023, for arraignment on child endangerment charges in the deaths of two toddlers at their home day care in October. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

Shahin Gheblehshenas, 64, and Nina Fathizadeh, 41, both of San Jose, released a statement through their respective attorneys, Carlos Vega and Cameron Bowman, ahead of a Friday court hearing.

The statement, provided exclusively to the Bay Area News Group, does not present a specific defense or address the substance of the criminal charges, which encompass felony and misdemeanor child endangerment allegations. The statement extends sympathy to the victims’ families and reassures the defendants’ cooperation with the court case.

“While our clients understand the immense grief and pain experienced by the families of the deceased toddlers, they recognize that their own sorrow is only a fraction of the unimaginable loss suffered by the bereaved parents,” the statement reads. “No words from our clients can alleviate the profound suffering of the affected families, but they extend their deepest sympathies during this incredibly tough time.”

Vega and Bowman added that their clients’ intent to see the legal case through is demonstrated by their agreement to bail conditions that include being under house arrest.

“We want to assure the families affected by this tragedy and the community at large that Nina Fathizadeh and Shahin Gheblehshenas are fully committed to cooperating with the ongoing criminal proceedings,” the statement reads.

Vega and Bowman are both former veteran Santa Clara County prosecutors; Vega left the county district attorney’s office a little over a year ago. Their clients have not yet entered a plea; the primary purpose of Friday’s court hearing is to formally declare the two attorneys as their legal counsel.

“We have not yet received the underlying police reports or other evidence related to the investigation, limiting our current ability to thoroughly evaluate the case,” the statement reads. “We ask for patience as the legal process unfolds and emphasize the importance of trying this case in a court of law rather than the court of public opinion.”

The attorneys declined comment beyond the scope of the statement.

Both women have been charged with three felony child endangerment counts — the third involving a child who was found in their pool but survived — and Fathizadeh also faces seven misdemeanor child endangerment counts for an unrelated incident in which she allegedly transported children without properly restraining them in a vehicle. They are both out of custody after posting bail.

Another of their bail conditions is a court prohibition against caring for any children besides their own; their daycare license was suspended by the state Department of Social Services after the deaths, and they were also fined $11,000.

The felony charges allege that neglect by the defendants directly resulted in two toddler girls — 18-month-old Payton Cobb, of Hollister, and 16-month-old Lillian Hanan, of San Jose — ending up in a pool at the Happy Happy Home Daycare on Fleetwood Drive the morning of Oct. 2.

Both children died after being rushed to a hospital. A third child, a 2-year-old boy, was also found in the water but survived. In multiple instances following the charges, prosecutors and one of the victim’s relatives called the deaths “a completely avoidable tragedy” and said the incident “wasn’t an accident.”

An investigation by San Jose police and the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office determined that the three children were unsupervised in a rear patio play area while Fathizadeh was making breakfast. The site was supposed to have at least two people watching the children, but an employee called in sick that morning.

Detectives also found that the gate for a five-foot-tall fence that surrounded the pool had been propped open. The criminal charges are based in part on accusations that the defendants were fully aware that Gheblehshenas’ husband was known to prop open the pool gate to water plants in the yard, and would sometimes forget to close it.

On the morning of the drownings, Fathizadeh let the two girls and the boy into the backyard. Prosecutors say she could see the unsecured pool gate but did not make any effort to close it, then then went to the kitchen, out of view of the children, for at least five minutes.

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When Fathizadeh went out to check on the children, she found the boy floating in the shallow end of the pool, pulled him out, called 911 and started CPR, according the investigation. But the girls were not tended to until Fathizadeh woke her brother, who was asleep elsewhere in the home, and found the two girls floating in the deep end of the pool. The adults attempted CPR on them before they were taken to a hospital.

Detectives stated in a probable cause affidavit that Fathizadeh reportedly voiced concern to her mother about not being able to watch over the children after the employee called in sick, which was compounded by Gheblehshenas expecting to be absent due to a medical appointment. The children’s parents were not informed that the daycare was shorthanded.

Gheblehshenas later realized that her medical appointment was actually the following week, and prosecutors allege that instead of returning to the Fleetwood Drive home to relieve her daughter, she headed to a separate unlicensed daycare the family also operated.