A Florida day-care driver has been charged with aggravated manslaughter in the death of a 3-year-old boy who was left in a hot van — an “unbearable environment” in which, investigators say, temperatures could have reached up to 144 degrees.
Deborah Denise St. Charles was arrested Thursday in the death of Myles Hill, who didn’t survive the 11 hours he spent trapped in a parked vehicle outside Little Miracles Academy in Orlando, the authorities said.
Police said St. Charles, 51, admitted that she failed to do a head count before she left the child behind Monday and described her as “extremely distraught” over what had happened.
Orlando Police Chief John Mina called it “an absolute tragedy which could have been prevented.”
On Friday, a judge set St. Charles’s bail at $30,000 and ruled that if released on bond, she could not work for a child-care center or have unsupervised contact with children, according to CBS affiliate WKMG.
It was not clear who is representing St. Charles in the case.
Police said that when Myles was not dropped off at home by Monday evening, his grandmother and legal guardian called Little Miracles Academy and the authorities to report him missing.
A day-care worker checked the van, police said, and authorities received a call from the academy about an unresponsive child in a vehicle.
“I was on the phone with her and she started to scream, ‘He’s in the van, dead!’ ” Barbara Livingston, Myles’s aunt, told the Orlando Sentinel about the boy’s grandmother.
“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.”
When officers arrived about 8:30 p.m., they found the 3-year-old on the floor in the back seat of the vehicle, police said.
He was pronounced dead at the scene.
The day-care driver told investigators that she picked up Myles from his apartment early Monday morning and put him on a rear bench on the driver’s side of the van, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.
Two other children were seated on the bench, and St. Charles picked up yet another child on her way to Little Miracles Academy, according to the report.
St. Charles told police that she exited the van and opened the rear hatch to grab some cleaning supplies she was supposed to deliver to the day-care center. She said that she handed supplies to some of the children and that they walked inside.
She assumed all the children were accounted for but “admitted to failing to perform a head count to be sure,” according to the affidavit.
St. Charles then drove to another Little Miracles location, on Plymouth Avenue. She told police that as she was arriving at that location, she received 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,” according to the affidavit.
Myles was not found until that evening, according to the report.
Orlando Police Detective Shane Overfield wrote in the 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.”
Temperatures in Orlando reached 93 degrees on Monday.
By 3 p.m., investigators said, temperatures inside the van could have soared to 144 degrees, according to the arrest warrant affidavit.
The medical examiner listed the cause of death as “hyperthermia due to environmental exposure” and the manner of death as an accident.
Thirty-two children have died of heatstroke this year after being left in hot cars, according to a national database. Data shows that since 1998, 732 children have died that way.
As news of the death spread, Little Miracles would not answer its phones, and local news media reported that its facilities were closed. A Facebook page for the center appeared to be deactivated, and its website was down.
WKMG reported that the Florida Department of Children and Families filed an emergency suspension order Wednesday to close both Little Miracles locations.
According to WKMG:
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, the DCF report said.
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. We will continue to aggressively act to keep kids safe and will hold anyone accountable who doesn’t follow the law.”
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