A Florida day care van driver is facing charges in the death of a 3-year-old boy who was left in a sweltering hot van for 11 hours before being discovered.
According to the Washington Post, Deborah Denise St. Charles was arrested on charges of aggravated manslaughter in the death of little Myles Hill, who was left in an “unbearable environment,” trapped in the van throughout the day. Investigators say that temperatures inside the van could have reached up to 144 degrees.
St. Charles, 51, admitted to police that she failed to do a head count before leaving the vehicle Monday. Authorities said that she was “extremely distraught” over what happened to the little boy.
Orlando, Fla., Police Chief John Mina called the incident “an absolute tragedy which could have been prevented.”
On Friday, St. Charles’ bail was set at $30,000 and a judge ruled that she could not work for a child care center or have unsupervised contact with children, the report notes.
Myles was found after his grandmother called Little Miracles Academy and asked about his whereabouts when he hadn’t been dropped home. A day care worker checked the van and police received a call from the center about the unresponsive child in the vehicle.
“I was on the phone with her and she started to scream, ‘He’s in the van, dead!’” Barbara Livingston, Myles’ aunt, told the Orlando Sentinel of the grandmother’s reaction.
“If you leave your child with someone, that person has the responsibility of taking care of them,” she added. “He had to lose his life because of someone’s neglect. It’s not right. It’s not right at all. If you have six kids get in the van, you make sure six kids get out of the van.”
St. Charles told investigators that she collected Myles from his apartment early Monday morning and put him on a rear bench on the driver’s side of the van, an arrest-warrant affidavit notes.
Two other children were on the bench, and then St. Charles picked up another child on her way to Little Miracles Academy. The driver told the police that she got out of the van and opened the rear hatch to get some cleaning supplies that she was supposed to deliver to the center. She then said that she handed supplies to some of the children and they all walked inside. St. Charles assumed that everyone had gotten off but “admitted to failing to perform a head count to be sure,” the affidavit notes.
She then drove to another Little Miracles location. As she was arriving at that location, she got a phone call.
“While on the phone, the suspect opened the driver’s side sliding door and grabbed some personal property from the floor behind the center console and locked the van without inspecting the interior,” the affidavit noted.
Orlando Police Detective Shane Overfield acknowledged in an arrest report that “this negligent act was committed with an utter disregard for the safety of the children she is responsible for transporting during the normal course of duties as a day care service provider and driver of the child care transport vehicle.”
Myles’ cause of death was listed as “hyperthermia due to environmental exposure,” ruling the death an accident.
In the aftermath, both Little Miracles locations were shut down. Myles’ death was the tragic culmination of a series of violations.
WKMG reports that the Florida Department of Children and Families, which filed the emergency-suspension order of the centers, claimed, among other things, that:
Myles was marked “present” by staff at Little Miracle Academy II, which is a violation of DCF attendance record keeping, the report said.
The Honda Odyssey minivan was not equipped with carriers for children 3 years of age and younger, according to the DCF report, and the vehicle should not have transported children younger than 5.
St. Charles drove the van Monday morning with six children who were 11 years old and younger. The 11-year-old rode in the front passenger’s seat, which should not have happened because of the airbag, which can injure a child.
DCF officials wrote that the safety violations present “an immediate serious danger to the public health, safety and welfare,” of the children and the day care’s license should immediately be suspended.
“Our hearts are broken about the senseless loss of Myles and we will continue to support his family,” a spokesman for the state agency said in a statement to the news station. “We are conducting a thorough investigation and are assisting law enforcement with their criminal investigation.
“This facility was previously cited for not keeping proper paperwork. Based on the tragic circumstances of this case, both facilities have now been shut down,” the statement continued. “We will continue to aggressively act to keep kids safe and will hold anyone accountable who doesn’t follow the law.”