3-year-old boy left in day care van dies in northwest Houston
A 3-year-old boy died Thursday, forgotten in the back of a sweltering bus after a field trip with his northwest Houston day care, authorities said.
The boy was on an outing with Discovering Me Academy in the 8000 block of Antoine Drive when two employees — a bus driver and a chaperone — left him on the bus after returning around 3 p.m. from a trip to Doss Park along Frick Road.
He was not discovered until his father came to pick him up around 6:30 p.m., according to Harris County Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen.
Discovering Me Academy employees looked for the boy inside the day care before realizing he had been trapped in triple-digit heat in the bus parked in the facility's back parking lot, Rosen said.
Deputies believe the boy might have fallen asleep during the 12-minute drive from the park, making him less noticeable to the two employees as they ushered 28 other children off the bus. Rosen said it was not clear whether the boy tried to escape the van before passing out.
Paramedics tried to resuscitate the boy as they rushed him to Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital, but they were unsuccessful.
An employee of the day care who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the staff was heartbroken and that the incident doesn't reflect on the care the center typically provides.
"We have policies in place, the right policies, but we cannot force people to follow them," the employee said.
Deputies recorded the temperature inside the bus as 113 degrees, although that reading was taken after rescuers had opened a door to the bus.
Back at the day care, deputies with Rosen's office detained the bus driver and chaperone for questioning. They could face criminal charges, Rosen said, although that remains to be determined by Houston Police Department detectives and prosecutors with the Harris County District Attorney's Office.
During a news conference near the bus Thursday evening, Rosen blamed the two employees for the boy's death.
"This was really just gross negligence," Rosen said. "As a result, a child lost his life."
Detectives sought to piece together what happened after the bus returned to the day care facility. They also wanted to find out if the bus was equipped with surveillance cameras.
Outside the day care, Elizabeth Perez — a mother of five — was shocked to learn of the boy's death.
"It could have been my baby," Perez said, speaking of her 18-month-old child who is also enrolled at Discovering Me Academy
She said the boy's death was not surprising and that she's had her own issues with the staff in the past.
"They should be charged," Perez said. "They need to close the day care."
An employee at Discovering Me Academy, reached by phone Thursday night, hung up after a reporter identified himself. Calls to the day care went unanswered.
Discovering Me, founded in 2012, has faced no administrative penalties or other sanctions in the past five years, according to Texas Health and Human Services records. In the last five years, the records record 11 inspections by state regulators, who found no violations.
The day care is run by Tanisha Butler and is authorized to enroll up to 185 children, state business records show. Its website touts it as a "safe and secure" day care "dedicated to the education and well-being of children."
Online reviews indicated that the center was well-liked by parents, with a 4.6-star rating over 43 reviews on Facebook.
"Never have I ever been more pleased, or impressed with a childcare facility," one reviewer wrote. "The owner Tanisha runs a very tight ship."
When temperatures approaching triple digits Thursday, interior car temperatures could reach 140 degrees after an hour without air conditioning, according to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation.
Nationwide, this was this year's 27th confirmed case of a child dying after being left in a hot car, according to the advocacy group Kids and Cars. It's the third such death in Texas this year, the group said, and the first involving a day care center.
Four additional deaths are awaiting autopsy results, according to the organization.
In June, a 9-month-old girl died in Baytown after being left in a hot truck for "an extended period of time," according to the Harris County Sheriff's Office.
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Jay R. Jordan covers breaking news in the Houston area. Read him on our breaking news site, Chron.com, and our subscriber site, HoustonChronicle.com | Follow him on Twitter at @JayRJordan | Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org