WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. (AP) — Four Arkansas day care workers are facing manslaughter charges in the death of a 5-year-old developmentally disabled boy who was left in a sweltering van all day, police said Friday.
West Memphis Police Capt. Joe Baker told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Friday that police have obtained arrest warrants for the four women in the death of Christopher Gardner, who remained strapped inside an Ascent Children’s Health Services van for eight hours outside the West Memphis day care center on Monday. Christopher died Tuesday.
Felicia Ann Phillips, 42, drove the van, while Pamela Lavette Robinson, 43, rode in the van with the children to ensure their safety, Baker said. Wanda Taylor was the 43-year-old “transportation supervisor” who signed Christopher into the day care, even though he never made it inside, and it was 40-year-old Kendra Washington’s job to make sure the vehicle was empty and secure, the police captain said.
“What we had here was four people who directly contributed to this death,” Baker said. “If any one of these four did anything different, there’s a good chance this wouldn’t have happened.”
It was unclear if the women have attorneys who can comment on their behalf.
The cause of death hasn’t been released, but the heat index neared 100 degrees Monday afternoon in West Memphis. According to KidsandCars.org, there have been over 800 child heatstroke deaths involving vehicles since 1990 in the U.S. The organization said about 7 percent of those fatalities were the result of a childcare worker leaving the child in a vehicle.
The day care fired four workers following Christopher’s death, but it wasn’t immediately clear Friday if they are the same four women facing charges. State Rep. Dan Sullivan, who is also the CEO of Ascent, said “staff did not follow company policies and procedures, and if they had, this tragedy would not have occurred.”
The Arkansas Department of Human Services is also investigating the boy’s death. The day care facility has been closed since Wednesday due to a shigella outbreak. A shigella infection can cause diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps.
Arkansas judge Wade Naramore was acquitted on a negligent homicide charge last summer after his son died in a hot car in July 2015. Naramore said he forgot to take the 18-month-old child to a day care center near the courthouse.
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