Trial set for four ex-day care em­ploy­ees

Women en­tered in­no­cent pleas in death of boy, 5, left in swel­ter­ing van

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

MAR­ION — A Crit­ten­den County cir­cuit judge set a Novem­ber trial for four women charged in the June 12 death of a 5-year-old boy left in­side a van for sev­eral hours, but an at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing one of the ac­cused said the trial will likely be held later.

On Mon­day, Cir­cuit Judge John Fogle­man of Mar­ion set Nov. 6-9 tri­als for four for­mer em­ploy­ees of As­cent Chil­dren’s Health Ser­vices of West Mem­phis.

The fa­cil­ity pro­vides care for de­vel­op­men­tally dis­abled chil­dren.

The four face charges of felony man­slaugh­ter after po­lice say they left Christo­pher Gard­ner Jr. in­side a day care trans­port van for eight hours June 12 while tem­per­a­tures in­side the ve­hi­cle climbed to 141 de­grees. Au­thor­i­ties found Christo­pher in the back seat of the 15-pas­sen­ger van.

West Mem­phis Po­lice Capt. Joe Baker said the young­ster freed him­self from a child seat and took off his shirt and one shoe. Au­thor­i­ties found his body sit­ting up­right in a seat across the aisle from where he first sat.

Ken­dra Wash­ing­ton, 40; Feli­cia Ann Phillips, 42; and Wanda Tay­lor, 43, pleaded in­no­cent dur­ing a hear­ing Mon­day in Crit­ten­den County Cir­cuit Court.

Pamela Lavette Robin­son, 43, en­tered an in­no­cent plea ear­lier last month be­cause her at­tor­ney, Bart Ziegen­horn of West Mem­phis, was called for jury duty in an­other county Mon­day.

The four were re­leased on $20,000 bonds each.

As­cent fired the four women in June.

Ash­ley Smith, Christo­pher’s mother, filed a civil law­suit against As­cent, its pres­i­dent and the four for­mer em­ploy­ees July 20.

Ziegen­horn said he ex­pects Fogle­man to resched­ule the trial for a later date.

“There is a lot of in­for­ma­tion we need to go over,” he said. “We’re still look­ing at it.

“It’s not un­usual to con­tinue a case that has this much doc­u­men­ta­tion,” he said.

Pros­e­cut­ing At­tor­ney Scott Elling­ton said in June that he chose to charge the four women with felony man­slaugh­ter rather than neg­li­gent homi­cide be­cause of cir­cum­stances that led to the boy’s death.

Po­lice said As­cent work­ers signed doc­u­ments show­ing that Christo­pher was taken in­side the West Mem­phis day care cen­ter, even though he re­mained on the van.

Elling­ton said he felt that the boy’s death was a re­sult of reck­less con­duct, rather than neg­li­gence.

Ziegen­horn said he would not com­ment on the case.

The four face charges of felony man­slaugh­ter after po­lice say they left Christo­pher Gard­ner Jr. in­side a day care trans­port van for eight hours June 12 while tem­per­a­tures in­side the ve­hi­cle climbed to 141 de­grees.

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