A one-year-old boy who died at a Coquitlam daycare two years ago strangled to death after he was left unattended in a car seat, a Vancouver court heard today.

Daycare operator Maria McFerran pleaded guilty in September to criminal negligence causing the death of Arto Howley on Jan. 17, 2011.

At the sentencing hearing on Tuesday morning in Port Coquitlam Provincial Court, the Crown prosecutor said McFerran was operating an unlicensed child care facility, Rattle-N-Roll. 


Victoria and Jeff Howley say the death of their son Arto at a daycare has destroyed their marriage and their lives. (Robert Zimmerman/CBC)

According to the agreed statement of facts read by the prosecutor, McFerran had six other children in her care at time of death, while she was legally only allowed two. She was warned of restrictions as early as 2005.

Howley was put in a car seat that had the padding removed. The chair was then put upstairs in a room and the door closed. The child was left unmonitored, the court heard.

According to the statement of facts, McFerran found him an hour later, with the strap around his neck, unresponsive.

McFerran then lied to first responders, saying the child was sleeping in a crib and got a blanket wrapped around his neck, said the prosecutor.

Parent's lives destroyed

In their emotional victim impact statements, the child's parents told the court Arto's death destroyed their marriage and their lives.

"January 22nd was supposed to be his first birthday party. Instead we were planning his funeral that day," said mother Victoria Howley, who is now two months pregnant.


Maria McFerran, the operator of the Rattle-N-Roll daycare centre, a home-based facility in the 1300 block of Shaughnessy Street, is being sentenced for criminal negligence causing death. (CBC)

"It is hard to see children today. When I do, all I think about is Arto," she said. "Arto is not replaceable. I will never know how long he suffered."

The father, Jeff Howley, said he was unable to work because of the emotional distress.

"The moment I heard my son Arto died at daycare part of me died with him. I broke down to severe depression and anger which made me want revenge."

Jeff said he moved to Alberta and still visits Victoria, but has been unable to recover from the loss.

"Now with a new baby on the way, I can't be happy or excited about that… Life sucks for me and I still think about killing myself every day."

McFerran will be sentenced on May 27.