Carer gives evidence at coronial inquest into Lachlan Mitchell’s death

Karla Zablah. Photo: Mark Donaldson
Karla Zablah. Photo: Mark Donaldson

THE woman who was caring for toddler Lachlan James Mitchell when he drowned in the pool of a Carramar home daycare in 2015 has given evidence at the coronial inquest into his death this morning.

The WA Coroner’s Court heard Karla Zablah, who was caring for three children at the time of the November 9 tragedy, was trying to put an 11-month-old baby to sleep and left two-year-old Lachlan unsupervised for 5 to 7 minutes.

She thought Lachlan had followed behind her and said she called out for him to accompany her while she was tending to the infant.

“The kids would follow me everywhere, I couldn’t even go to the toilet without kids waiting for me at the door,” she said.

She found Lachlan lying face down in the pool near the steps when she went outside.

She believed the gate door was closed.

The court heard he may have climbed over the fence by standing on a pot plant near the pool.

Lachlan’s parents Melanie and Luke Mitchell outside court with lawyer John Hammond. Picture: Mark Donaldson

Lachlan’s parents Melanie and Luke Mitchell, represented in court by lawyer John Hammond, had told her their son was “hyper mobile” and that he liked to climb.

The court heard the carer threw her mobile phone out of her pocket when she retrieved Lachlan from the pool.

This meant she could not find it when she wanted to call emergency services.

The rental home did not have a landline.

She began CPR before running next door to her neighbour, who continued CPR on the toddler.

The neighbour’s wife called the ambulance.

Lachlan later died in hospital.

Outside the Central Law Courts, Mr Hammond told reporters his clients did not want to speak until after the hearing.

“It’s been going on two years and it’s bringing up the emotion again, that’s for sure,” he said.

The two-day inquest will examine how the toddler found his way into the pool when its security was deemed to be compliant.

It will examine guidelines for regulation of family day care services.

Ms Zablah was working under the authority of Communicare.

Communicare chief executive Melissa Perry and Communicare Joondalup branch officer Jo Georgiou also gave evidence today.

Lachlan Mitchell.

The court heard Communicare no longer accepted carers who had pools at their homes.

The not-for-profit organisation had seven existing homes with pools, which were now checked monthly for compliance.

Ms Perry, Ms Georgiou and Ms Zablah each said they supported the banning of pools at home day care centres.

They also believed it should be compulsory for homes to have a landline phone.

The hearing concluded with testimonies from Department of Communities education and care regulatory unit director Jon Pilkington and department investigations officer Natalie Petrusich.

Ms Petrusich said the first thing she noticed when investigating the incident was the pot plants near the pool fence.

She said her “intial thought” was that Lachlan could have climbed into the pool area using one of the pots.

Her other thought was that the gate might not have closed properly.

Mr Pilkington said there were 1470 educators (carers) in WA and 240 of them had a spa or pool.

He said he visited the home on the day of the tragedy and saw roots in one of the pots had grown into the ground.

But it was not difficult to move the pot despite the roots.

He tested the lock on the gate and it worked on first try.

He said if pools were banned from home daycare centres there might be some areas, particularly those in regional parts, which would lose their only convenient home daycare services.