Four Ascent employees to face manslaughter charges following child’s death in hot van

Four Ascent employees to face manslaughter charges following child’s death in hot van

WM Police chief calls fatality completely preventable

ralphhardin@gmail.com West Memphis Police Chief Donald Oakes has announced that the four employees responsible for the care of a 5-year-old boy left in a hot van have been charged with manslaughter after the child was left in the van all day and died last week.

Christopher Gardner, Jr.

was found dead in a booster seat eight hours after the van arrived at Ascent Children’s Health Services Monday, June 12.

Oakes made the announcement Friday morning at WMPD headquarters.

They are identified as: bus driver Felicia Phillips, 42; transportation chapperone Pamela Robinson, 43; transport supervisor Wanda Taylor, 43; and Ascent van safety director Kendra Washington, 40.

In the conference, Oakes said any of the four people could have stopped the child’s death had they done their jobs and checked on the van. He said the surface temperature of the van seat was measured at 141 degrees when the child was found according to police reports.

In a statement issued late last week by Ascent Children’s Health Services CEO Dan Sullivan, the four had already been terminated from their positions at the West Memphis facility, one of 10 operated by Ascent in Arkansas. Sullivan admitted at that time that “some employees didn't follow correct protocol.” Here's what happened: According to the police report, a little after 3:30 p.m.

last Monday, police were called to Ascent Child Health Services’ 413 West Tyler Cove location in reference to a 5-year-old boy found unresponsive in an Ascent transport van. The responding officer arrived and saw the boy sitting in a booster seat in the back row of the daycare van not breathing and unconscious with blood coming out of his nose and his head tilted to the right.

Phillips the bus driver, told the officer she picked up Christopher at 6:23 a.m., along with the first group of children, and dropped them off at the daycare at 7:13 a.m. She then left to go pick up the second round of children and returned to the daycare to drop them off. After both groups of kids were dropped off at the daycare, the bus driver said Washington,

the van safety director, checked the van for

children and reported there were not any children on the bus. When the employee told her there were no children on the bus, the bus driver clocked out and left.

When the officer asked the bus driver if anyone in the building had noticed Christopher in any of the classrooms during that day, she said no one had seen him.

It was only when Phillips returned to work at the end of the day, around 3:30 p.m., to take the children home that the child was discovered dead in the van. Robinson, an adult rider who was on the bus with the driver that morning, corroborated the driver’s account, adding that another employee, Taylor, the center’s transportation supervisor, found Christopher's shoe, realized he wasn't in the clinic, and went out to the van to look for him.

The WMPD, Arkansas State Police, and DHS were all brought in to investigate the scene.

The four women charged in the case will remain jailed over the weekend and are expected to have a bond hearing on Monday morning. All four women were taken into custody and transported to the Crittenden County Detention Center.

By Ralph Hardin

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