When nurse Cheryl Pease arrived at work on Oct. 8, 1977, at a hospital in Baldwin Park, she noticed a blanket on a counter that seemed to be covering something.
She pulled back the blanket and discovered a baby girl who had been born very prematurely. There was little Pease could do to save her, but she was angry the baby had been treated so callously by the hospital.
"You just don't treat a human being like that," she told the Los Angeles Times. "This little baby was left lying on the counter to die in its own agony."
Pease, 67, who got fired for going public with her story that sparked a high-profile investigation, died Jan. 29 in a San Dimas hospital. She had been struggling with pulmonary problems and had been hospitalized for several months, said her son, Chris Nichols.
The baby she tried to save nearly 40 years ago was born in an ambulance on the way to Baldwin Park Community Hospital. Details about what happened upon arrival were sketchy, but the baby was placed in an incubator until a doctor ordered life support be cut off due to the hopelessness of the case. Somehow, she ended up on the counter.
When Pease — then known as Cheryl Nichols — spotted the infant, she touched the baby's leg and it drew back. "That baby was still alive," she said. "I couldn't leave it alone."
Pease put her back into an incubator, but the baby died a few hours later. When Pease wrote a report on the incident, a doctor told her to rewrite it, leaving out any mention of the counter. She cooperated at first, then became defiant.
"I was crying as they bagged the dead baby," she said. "I decided they weren't going to get away with it."
She took her story to KABC-TV, which put her on the evening news. That sparked a county health department investigation, during which the hospital, owned by American Medicorp, strenuously denied wrongdoing. Pease was fired. In a note, the hospital listed several reasons, including making false statements and "unauthorized disclosure" of patient information.
A coroner's jury declared that the baby "died at the hands of another, other than by accident." But neither the hospital nor the doctor who cut off life support were charged because of testimony that the baby would have died anyway. An investigation unearthed other infractions at the hospital, leading to its license being suspended for a month. It was sold in 1978.
In 1985 Pease was vindicated when a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury found she had been wrongfully fired and awarded her $60,000. The victory, she said, was bittersweet.
"I still see that baby's face. It haunts me sometimes. If this can happen, I wonder what else happens that no one ever knows about."
After the incident Pease found work at other hospitals and the Los Angeles county health department, her son said. In the 1990s, she was a school nurse in the Monrovia school district.
She was born Cheryl Manocchi on June 23, 1947, in Cincinnati. A few years later her family moved west to take over an Azusa produce store her grandparents operated.
She graduated from Edgewood High School in West Covina and studied nursing at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut.
For the Record
Feb. 8, 2:08 p.m.: An earlier version of this article said Pease attended Gladstone High School in Covina. She attended Edgewood High School in West Covina.
Besides her son Chris, who lives in Los Angeles, she is survived by her husband James Pease of Las Vegas; daughter Lisa Hernandez and son Frank Pease of Rancho Cucamonga; brother Vincent Manocchi of Rancho Cucamonga; sister Diana Stanko of the Atlanta area; six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.