Suit filed in hot-van death
Mother targets day care, its president, four workers after son dies
The mother of a 5-year-old West Memphis boy who died June 12 after day care workers left him unattended inside a van for eight hours has filed a civil lawsuit against Ascent Children’s Health Services, its president and four former employees.
In her lawsuit filed Thursday in Crittenden County Circuit Court, Ashley Smith said her son Christopher Gardner Jr., died as a result of “the lack of supervision by [the defendants].
“But for [their] acts and omissions in failing to provide adequate care, supervision and assistance, Plaintiff’s decedent would not have died inside the day care van on June 12,” the lawsuit said.
Smith said Ascent employees’ actions were “negligent, willful and reckless” and were of “gross negligence.”
Dan Sullivan, a state representative from Jonesboro who has served as CEO of Ascent since 2013, did not return telephone messages Thursday.
According to West Memphis police, the day care’s 15-passenger van picked up the boy at 6:40 a.m. June 12. The facility provides care for developmentally disabled children.
Ascent employees failed to remove Christopher from the van when it arrived at the center on West Tyler Avenue, although one employee said she signed documents that the boy was removed from the van and taken inside the facility.
The child was left inside the van until about 3:30 p.m. The temperature reached a high of 88 degrees that day, and the humidity averaged between 70 and 80 percent. Police said temperatures inside the closed van climbed to 141 degrees.
Investigators found the boy’s body sitting upright in the back seat of the van across the aisle from where he first sat. He had freed himself from his car seat and had taken off his shirt and one shoe, police said.
“That poor boy suffered,” Capt. Joe Baker of the West Memphis Police Department said last month.
Four former employees face felony manslaughter charges in connection with the boy’s death.
Those charged are van driver Felicia Ann Phillips, 42; safety inspector Kendra Washington, 40; transportation supervisor Wanda Taylor, 43; and Pamela Lavette Robinson, 43, the person who travels in the van to ensure the safety of children on board. All four were fired in the aftermath of Christopher’s death.
Randall Jay Fishman, a Memphis attorney representing Smith, said Thursday he filed the legal action to help ensure a similar death would not occur at any other day care facilities.
“It’s a sad set of facts,” Fishman said. “This death never had to happen. This is a 5-year-old child who didn’t get to first grade. It’ll strike your heart.”
The lawsuit seeks from Ascent medical and funeral expenses, attorneys’ fees and punitive damages.