Police: Four people charged with manslaughter after child dies in daycare van

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WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. -- Four people will be charged in connection to the death of 5-year-old Christopher Gardner, Jr. who died after being left outside in a daycare van.

Bus driver Felicia Ann Phillips, bus monitor Pamela Robinson, Ascent's Transportation Supervisor Wanda Taylor and Van Safety Inspector Kendra Washington are all charged with manslaughter.

Police said it was reckless negligence that led to Christopher being left alone on that van in the first place.

Detectives said all four women had a duty to either check the van Monday morning after it dropped kids off at Ascent Children’s Health Services or make sure all the riders made it inside the facility.

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Police said two of the women, Washington and Robinson, turned themselves into police on Friday.

Authorities said the other two are expected to turn themselves in on Monday.

All four are scheduled to appear in a Crittenden County court on Monday morning.

A judge has denied bond until their first appearances in court.

The Medical Examiner's Office said the 5-year-old died from heat exposure after he was left on the daycare van for hours.

That morning, little Christopher reportedly got on the bus around 6:40 a.m.

It arrived at Ascent Children's Heath Services approximately 30 minutes after that.

Employees said they checked the bus that day, but during a news conference on Friday, police said based on their investigation, there is no way they could have checked the bus and not seen the child from where he was.

The workers were supposed to do a walk-through of the van to make sure it was empty and then hit a safety button in the back, but police said the workers instead opened the back door from the outside and hit the safety button without walking through the inside.

Police said one of the woman, Wanda Taylor, also admitted to checking Christopher into the classroom even though he didn’t go inside.

Eight hours later, he was discovered unresponsive inside the van. The van had moved a total of three times before that discovery.

By that point, it was too late; first responders couldn't resuscitate him.

Police pointed to spending a long time in the heat as the cause of death. The temperature outside was 91 degrees, and police said the inside of the van could have gotten up to 140 degrees.

Officers said they’re now going to check the personnel files and van safety inspections.

Ascent issued the following statement:

There are simply no words to express the overwhelming sadness we feel at the death of this child. We are heartbroken and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family. Ascent will continue to fully cooperate with the authorities and state agencies as they investigate this tragic incident. Our West Memphis clinic will remain closed for the rest of the week.

Police said they haven't had issues with Ascent in the past.

However, WREG uncovered Ascent was cited for the following violations:

  1. Aug. 25, 2016, visit: Medicine shall be kept out of the reach of the children when dispensing and shall be stored in a locked area at all other times.
  2. March 20, 2017, visit: Trampolines shall not be used. (Therapeutic use of trampolines is acceptable if supervised by the therapist on a one-on-one basis.)
  3. March 20, 2017, visit: Slides shall have a transition platform of at least 14 inches deep for preschool and school age children, and 19 inches deep for toddler.

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