The mysterious death Tuesday afternoon of an 11-month-old Borough Park boy has shaken the largely fervently Orthodox neighborhood, as residents speculated about the legality of a baby-sitting operation in the basement of a three-family brick residence on 18th Avenue and 53rd Street.
Yechezkel Kraminer, the youngest of three children of full-time yeshiva student Baruch and his working wife, Chana, was dead on arrival at Maimonides Medical Center.
His unidentified baby-sitter, a woman in her 20s, had called 911 fearing a gas leak in the building had sickened Yechezkel and an unidentified 5-month-old boy in her charge.
The children had developed breathing problems and began to look pale and listless, she told police.
The 5-month-old was revived and was listed in stable condition this week.
Seven other young children, two in the basement of the home and five in an upstairs apartment, also were evacuated but were treated and released at Maimonides and nearby Lutheran hospitals.
Authorities quickly ruled out carbon monoxide or a natural gas leak as the cause of death. Instead they were focusing on high blood sugar levels found in the two victims, perhaps from consuming cough syrup.
One investigator told reporters that the baby-sitter might have given the children cough syrup to quiet them down or make them sleepy.
Neighbors who gathered outside the modest house next door to an auto body shop and diagonally across the street from the Stolner yeshiva debated whether the basement baby-sitting operation, where local parents dropped off their children for at least a year, was a legal enterprise and what constituted a regulated day care center.
A city Health Department spokeswoman had no record of a day care center operating at that address. There were no signs or indication on the building that a child-care operation functioned there.
"I hope it’s not an illegal operation," said onlooker Pinchas Stein.
Resident Frank Pavel said the building was sold two months ago, and there were tenants on the first and second floors, while the baby-sitter operated in the basement.
Several neighbors told The Jewish Week they felt safe leaving their children there.
"My nephew was brought there for months," said one clean-shaven yeshiva student in his early 20s.
"I was going to leave my daughter there even today but changed my mind," said a woman pushing a stroller down 18th Avenue.
A spokeswoman for the city Medical Examiner’s Office said an autopsy would be performed on Kraminer.
When the baby-sitter went to Maimonides to check on the boys, she collapsed in grief and the hospital took her to the emergency room, said Rabbi Edgar Gluck, chairman of the emergency services committee for Community Board 12.
A young yeshiva teacher said she happened to be on the scene at about 1 p.m. Tuesday when the baby-sitter was on the phone with Hatzolah, the Jewish ambulance service. At the same time, a mother had come to pick up her child.
"It was tragic," she said.