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A York County woman pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and two counts of felony child abuse in York-Poquoson Circuit Court on Tuesday.
Kyla Denise Ziegenhagen, 33, was arrested and charged after a 16-month-old girl in her care choked to death when left unattended in a car safety seat in August 2014.
According to a criminal complaint filed in York-Poquoson Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, Ziegenhagen initially told investigators she placed the child in a car safety seat around 2 p.m. Aug. 12, 2014. She then took her outside to sit on the front porch while the other children in her care played in the yard of her home in the Landings at Langley.
Ziegenhagen told a York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office investigator she took the infant back inside after a short while and left her unattended in the master bedroom while she returned downstairs to fold clothes and the other kids watched a television program. She reported she went to check on the baby around 4:30 p.m. and found her cold to the touch and unresponsive at that time.
The story recounted by Ziegenhagen in the criminal complaint differs from what investigators say they learned from talking with the infant’s mother, who told them Ziegenhagen had a veterinary appointment at 2 p.m. that day elsewhere in York County.
Investigators received confirmation from the veterinary clinic that Ziegenhagen showed up for the appointment with her own children, ages 3 and 6, as well as a male infant in a stroller. Neither the 16-month-old nor an 8-year-old also in her care that day were with her.
When interviewed again Aug. 14, Ziegenhagen admitted to going to the veterinary office and leaving the other two children at her home unattended for up to an hour.
Ziegenhagen also admitted she did not check on the infant for another 90 minutes after returning home in the course of the second interview. The first indication that something was wrong came when she sent the 8-year-old to check on the baby at around 4:30 p.m.
When Ziegenhagen herself went to check on the child she “found [the toddler] had slid down in the car seat, becoming entangled in the car seat harness.” She immediately called 911 and administered CPR, according to the complaint, but the 16-month-old was pronounced dead at the scene.
In the course of the investigation, two additional charges of child abuse relating to separate incidents were brought against her, but they have since been dropped.
Ziegenhagen faces a maximum penalty of 55 years in prison and a $102,500 fine. Her sentencing is set for 1 p.m. Feb. 25.