Suit filed in hot-van death

Mother tar­gets day care, its pres­i­dent, four work­ers af­ter son dies

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - KEN­NETH HEARD

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.

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