Elizabeth Zenda was sentenced July 26 to four years in jail and five years of probation after being found guilty in the drowning death of a child under her supervision.
The 49-year-old Pittsfield Township resident was convicted June 22 on one count of involuntary manslaughter and two counts of child endangering — all felonies and stemming from the drowning death of 22-month-old Annie Flynn and serious injuries suffered by 21-month-old Jaxon Flynn.
“This isn’t going to change anything or make it better but at least now (Zenda) realizes she is at fault,” said Annie’s father, Zach Flynn. “Now she has to be punished for being reckless. I’m just glad she finally has to face that. There is no managing this situation for us. You go through each day. If it’s a good day it’s a good day and if it’s a bad day you need people around you.”
The toddlers, cousins, were found submerged in Zenda’s backyard pool at 10:21 a.m. on Oct. 5, 2016. Annie was pronounced dead at Mercy Health Allen Hospital in Oberlin while Jaxon was revived by rescuers but suffered brain damage.
Zenda ran a day care center at her home on West Road for six years and had supervised Annie and Jaxon for a little more than one year.
Relatives of the toddlers and friends of Zenda spoke out before the sentence was handed down by judge James Miraldi in the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas.
“Please consider those last few moments of Annie’s life,” said the child’s grandmother, Lisa Phillips of Elyria. “When Annie wanted something she would put her hands up and say, ‘Help me. Help me.’ I go to sleep every night seeing that baby in the pool saying, ‘Help me.’ There was no one there to help her.
“The woman who was paid to help her wasn’t there for her when she needed her most. Those last few moments must’ve been so terrifying, not being able to get above that water and her soggy diaper dragging her down,” she said. “Please think of how scared she was. Our Annie is gone and she died a horrible, horrible death because this woman and her daughter-in-law wanted to look at Pinterest.”
During a three-day trial, prosecutors showed the toddlers had squeezed through a seven-inch gap between the pool’s deck and the bottom of a swing gate.
Annie had gone under the gate at least one other time prior to the tragedy, which led Zenda to lean a plastic baby gate against the inside of the swing gate as a deterrent.
That baby gate was found tipped over on the deck after the drownings, according to testimony. Investigators and medical examiners agreed the plastic baby gate was not an adequate response to the danger of a pool.
Zenda addressed the court before learning her sentence.
“My life changed the minute we found those babies in the pool,” she said. “I tried to stay calm and responsible. I called the parents, only realizing later it was something I could’ve had the sheriffs do. But it was my responsibility. I have shed tears and will continue to shed tears. I’ve done my best to help my children cope with the situation and with the possibility of losing me. I just hope it was enough.”
Friends said Zenda made an effort to be involved in the lives of the children she watched and regularly attended family functions such as baseball games and graduations.
“Betsy was always very helpful and a wonderful parent,” said Richard Hatton of Wellington. “She was always involved, probably more than most because of the special dietary needs of her kids. I know her to be a great friend and an honest, hardworking person. What I can share is that I’ve gotten to see them as a family for a long time. The dedication that she’s had to her kids and others’ kids continues today.”
Zenda previously told investigators that she has had no formal child supervision training. According to testimony, she regularly stayed inside her house as children played outside in a backyard area and checked on them periodically while completing other daily tasks.
On the day of the drowning, Annie was alone in the backyard with Jaxon and two other children, ages 27 months and three years.
The fathers of both toddlers spoke in court and shared their families’ experiences after adjournment.
“I’m glad that (Miraldi) at least gave her a jail sentence versus any kind of probation,” said Matt Flynn, father of Jaxon. “Probation wouldn’t have been anywhere near fair. Jaxon has his balance back but his speech is really horrible. It’s really hard to understand him. He was the closest with Annie and he doesn’t even recognize a picture of her. It’s going to be a long road still but we’re trying to get through it.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.