Four day care employees charged with manslaughter in hot car death of 5-year-old

Felicia Ann Phillips,42, former driver of the van (top left), Pamela Lavette Robinson,43, former Van Rider (top right), Wanda Taylor,43, former Transportation Supervisor (bottom left), and Kendra Washingon, 40, former Director Designated Van Safety Inspector (bottom right) have been charged with manslaughter in the death of 5-year-old Christopher Gardner Jr. (Photo: West Memphis Police Department)

Four people have been charged with manslaughter after a 5-year-old died in a hot day care van in West Memphis.

According to the West Memphis Police, four people were responsible for the day care van 5-year-old Christopher Gardner Jr. was riding in. The following employees are facing manslaughter charges in Gardner's death.

  • Felicia Ann Phillips,42, former driver of the van. Phillips responsibilities included driving and unloading the van, making sure kids were safe.
  • Pamela Lavette Robinson,43, former Van Rider. Robinson was responsible for assisting the van driver, making sure all kids were safe.
  • Wanda Taylor,43, former Transportation Supervisor. Taylor was responsible for a check-off list to account for all present kids. Police say Taylor checked Gardner off the list without ever seeing him.
  • Kendra Washingon, 40, former Director Designated Van Safety Inspector. Washington was responsible for checking the van after kids were unloaded. Police say Washington did not perform her job.

"They have all said and still maintain that they did look and they don't understand how they didn't see him. We've done some re-enactments. We've done lots of point-of-view photography, looking in the van, and we don't see how, if they preformed these secondary checks, there was any way possible they could have missed this child in the van," said Captain Joe Baker.

West Memphis Police Chief Donald Oakes told Channel 7, "If any of the ladies had done the duty they were tasked to do, Christopher would have been alive. We would not be dealing with this child's death. Kind of conduct that reckless causes the death of another person. They made a conscious decision to do things that we feel like rises to reckless behavior not negligent."

Christopher Gardener Jr. was found dead in a van outside of Ascent Children's Health Services on Monday.

"It did appear that Christopher had attempted to take his shoes off and clothing off, probably to cool off inside the van," said Baker.

The van door was childproof and unable to be opened from the inside of the vehicle. Gardner had been in the van for over 8 hours before employees found him.

As required by state law, there was an alarm at the back of the van which is meant to prevent this kind of tragedy. When the ignition shuts off, a worker is supposed to walk through the aisle to the back of the van to disable it, but police say that protocol too was ignored.

"Rather than go through that process, it sounds like what their normal practice is is to open the rear door and push the button which bypasses the whole point of having a safety alarm which is to seat by seat and methodically check," said Baker.

All four women are being held without bond ahead of their first court appearance on Monday. Ascent Children's Health has hired attorneys on behalf of its former employees.

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