FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii -- A 40-year-old Hawaii woman operating an unlicensed home day care at an Army-managed complex has been charged with manslaughter in the antihistamine poisoning death of a 7-month-old, according to court documents filed Monday.
Dixie Denise Villa was arrested after turning herself in at Honolulu Police Department headquarters Saturday in the death of Abigail Lobisch, who died Feb. 24 while staying overnight at the day care at Aliamanu Military Reservation in Honolulu. Her bail was set at $1 million, according to documents filed in Hawaii First Circuit District Court.
The autopsy report found Abigail's death was caused by a lethal amount of diphenhydramine in her bloodstream -- roughly double the amount that has proven fatal in other infant deaths.
Diphenhydramine is an over-the-counter antihistamine used to relieve symptoms of allergies and colds. The drug, which also goes by the brand name Benadryl, also induces sleep.
Children younger than age 6 are advised to not use diphenhydramine unless directed by a doctor.
Toxicology testing found the level of diphenhydramine in the girl's blood stream at 2,400 nanograms per milliliter, court documents said. The average concentration found in infants who have died from diphenhydramine is 1,400 nanograms per milliliter.
The child's mother, Anna Lobisch, had been using Villa's day care services for about four months.
On Feb. 23, she dropped Abigail and her 2-year-old brother off at the Aulani Hotel, a Disney resort, where Villa had stayed the previous night with her two children, court documents said.
After spending the day at the pool at the resort, Villa brought the four children back to her home at Aliamanu. Villa told Honolulu Police Department detectives the children were badly sunburned and that she applied lotion on them.
Villa told detectives that the four children slept in one bed and that Abigail was "sleeping face down on her chest and the other three children were lying next to her," court documents said. At about 8:30 the next morning, Villa said she saw Abigail lying face down and that her skin looked "splotchy." She was cold to the touch.
Villa told detectives the only thing she had given Abigail for the sunburn was the lotion.
Anna Lobisch, who still lives in Hawaii, declined to comment on the arrest and charges.
Villa's husband, Aaron Villa, an active-duty Navy sailor, filed for divorce soon after Abigail's death. He was granted a temporary restraining order by Hawaii family court and is seeking sole legal and physical custody of the couple's two children because she is "not capable of safely caring for the children and neglects children to the extent that the children are not safe in her custody," court documents said.
Both moved out of Aliamanu. Dixie Villa said in court documents earlier this year that she had no permanent home and was now "couch surfing" with friends.
She was arrested numerous times on battery and domestic violence charges from 1997 to 2006 while living in Hillsborough County, Fla., under the name Dixie Denise Smith. She was convicted for domestic violence battery in 1998 and for battery in 1999.
Villa had continued to operate the unlicensed day care at Aliamanu, despite being shut down several times by military police.
Katie Camario, who lived next door, said she witnessed unsupervised toddlers in the backyard playing in unsafe conditions, including one incident in which a child was playing with a barbecue lighter.
Shortly after Abigail's death, Camario and other neighbors of the day care showed up at an Army town hall meeting at Fort Shafter being held to gather comments about housing problems.
"If you all knew for the span of over a year now that this had been going on at this home, why did you let it go on for this long?" Camario said to the gathered Army officials.
The Army has yet to answer that question.
U.S Army Hawaii has completed an investigation into Villa's unlicensed day care, as well as the prevalence of unauthorized day cares and what the Army is doing to deal with such providers.
It is not issuing any findings from that investigation, according to an Army Garrison Hawaii spokesman.