5-year-old dies after being left in van at children's health clinic

5-year-old dies in day care van, staff signed him in at facility
Published: Jun. 12, 2017 at 9:27 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 14, 2017 at 3:47 PM CDT
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(Source: My5)
(Source: My5)
(Source: WMC Action News 5)
(Source: WMC Action News 5)

WEST MEMPHIS, AR (WMC) - A 5-year-old died in a van at a children's health clinic in West Memphis, Arkansas.

West Memphis Police Department said Christopher Gardner, Jr. was found dead at 3:30 p.m. on Monday.

The child was picked up from their family at 6:40 a.m. The van arrived at the facility at 7:20 a.m. The young boy was found dead in a booster seat over eight hours later.

"You can see that my great grandbaby suffered in that van," great grandmother Carrie Smith said. "That wasn't right."

She said when Gardner would get off the van every afternoon, he would expect one thing - cookies.

"When he got off the van he'd say, 'Granny, have you got me a cookie today?'" Smith said.

The child's mother said she signed a sheet of paper around 6:30 a.m. Monday indicating he had been picked up and was on the van. He arrived at the Ascent Children's Health Services facility around 7:15 a.m.

So far, it is not clear why the child did not, or could not, get off the van.

Sources tell WMC Action News 5 a driver and another adult were in the van. In addition, sources said Gardner was actually signed into the Ascent facility even though he was still in the van.

"They didn't get off their, excuse my language, off their a-- and look. I'm very upset about it. They didn't look, and they can't tell me they looked," Smith said. "They didn't."

Gardner's family said he had been going to Ascent since he was one year old. They said he had two heart surgeries and was at the facility for development issues.

The West Memphis facility describes itself as a "Child Health Management Services provider, which means it offers services for children with complex health needs in addition to day care."

Employees at the facility did not want to talk. Some of them even drove away from the facility with coats over their head.

On Monday, the temperatures hit 80 degrees, causing the temperature in the van to rise to at least 114 degrees after just 30 minutes of the child being in the van. Investigators said the temperature in the van rose to at least 141 degrees while the child was in the van.

Ascent safety history

While the West Memphis Police Department investigates the death, the Department of Human Services has its own investigation active. The department is looking into this incident and the history of the day care.

A former employee, who did not want to be identified, spoke with WMC Action News 5 about the steps the clinic takes to prevent this from happening.

"Something was distracting them to not see him on that van all day," the former employee said.

The former employee said she worked at the facility just six months ago, and it was common practice to check the vans three times after children were taken off the van.

"When we pull up in the front, we blow the horn, they come out and check and then once we go to the back, we get out and check," the former employee said.

She also said there is paperwork employees must fill out when checking a child in and that at least two adults were required to be in the van at all times.

According to Department of Human Services records, during the last four DHS visits, the facility had three minor citations, but none of them for transportation related issues.

There have been no complaints issued with DHS against the facility.

A spokesperson for DHS called the tragedy an "awful situation," and said the department would be conducting an investigation into any possible facility licensing issues.

[Editor's note: Investigators initially reported the child's age as 6 years old. They later corrected the child's age to 5 years old.]

Copyright 2017 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.