BSO investigates death of boy, 4, in sweltering SUV

A Broward County youngster died Wednesday when employees of a much-faulted day-care center left him unattended in a blazing-hot car.

08/02/2012 5:00 AM

08/02/2012 10:14 PM

Broward authorities are investigating the death of a 4-year-old boy left in a sweltering SUV for more than two hours by the 20-year-old daughter of a Sunrise day-care operator.

Sources told The Miami Herald Thursday that the boy, Jordan Coleman, and seven other children had been taken to a Tamarac apartment complex by van on Wednesday, allegedly because the owner of 3C’s Day Academy was afraid that child-care-licensing administrators would visit and discover she was caring for more children than her license allowed.

The seven others were brought into a unit in the complex, but Jordan, for reasons that are unclear, was left in the van. The outside temperature was in the 90s at the time.

Day-care owner Cecily Roberts, 42, had been the subject of several troubling inspections by the Broward County Child Care Licensing office, and state child protection investigators had been seeking to shut down her home-based day care.

Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti, on vacation this week, confirmed that his agency was investigating the death of a 4-year-old who had been left in a van for about two hours, but he refused to discuss any details, such as whether the van was sealed.

“We’re waiting for the medical examiner to come back with a ruling. That’s why we can’t really say anything,” Lamberti said. “We don’t know if it was neglect or homicide.”

Jordan is the 16th child to die in an unattended hot car in the United States this year, according to KidsAndCars.org, a Kansas City advocacy group. Wednesday’s high in Broward was 91 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Roberts, 42, is the operator of 3C’s Day Academy at 2125 NW 72nd Ter. in Sunrise, which was first licensed in 2008, records show. Since 2010, Roberts has been cited three times for running an over-capacity child-care facility, and twice for leaving infants and toddlers in the care of her daughter, who is below the age required to supervise a child-care center. The center also had been reported to the Department of Children & Families on three occasions, including one verified report that youngsters were not being properly supervised.

The child-care center’s problems appear to have begun around October 2010, when Broward licensing administrators cited Roberts for leaving her then-18-year-old daughter, Camile Gordon, in charge of two children while she was away from the home. In that same inspection, Roberts was cited for failing to notify licensure authorities when a child in her care experienced a medical emergency. Under licensing rules, child-care operators must file an incident report every time 911 is called.

An April 2011 inspection, the result of a complaint from an agency that works with children, concluded once again that 3C’s had “exceeded” the staff-to-child ratio allowed. And again in August of that year, Roberts was cited when inspectors found eight children — the number would have been nine, had the mother of one child not left with her 2-year-old when the inspectors arrived — alone with only one caregiver.

The number of children a center can supervise varies, depending partly on the children’s ages.

A December 2011 inspection found “excessive clothing and other items tossed throughout the master bedroom that would present a serious danger to the children in care in the event of a fire.” The most recent inspection, in June, found Roberts had failed to comply with four regulations, including record-keeping and proof that children had received physical exams.

Sources told The Miami Herald Thursday that Roberts was afraid child-care inspectors would return to her home to ensure she had corrected the June deficiencies, and had asked her daughter to take the eight children away from the center so she didn’t get caught over capacity once again. Sources said the eight youngsters, including two infants, were placed in the SUV without car seats and driven to the apartment complex, where they spent the day. About two-and-a-half hours later, Camile Gordon discovered the 4-year-old passed out in the back of the car.

Gordon called fire-rescue while a neighbor performed CPR on Jordan, sources said.

The Sheriff’s Office, which performs child-abuse investigations in Broward under contract with the Department of Children & Families, had either visited the home or contacted Roberts twice in recent months in an effort to either improve the day-care center or shut it down, a source told the newspaper.

No one answered the door at Roberts’ home Thursday, and she could not be reached by phone. County licensing administrators also could not be reached for comment.

Joe Follick, DCF’s spokesman in Tallahassee, declined to discuss Jordan’s death in detail Thursday, saying it remained under investigation.

“We are working with law enforcement on this tragic case,” Follick said. “We cannot emphasize enough the dangers of leaving a child unattended in a car — for any amount of time,” he said.

Added Amber Rollins, executive assistant to the president at KidsAndCars.org.: “One thing that people don’t realize is how quickly a vehicle heats up. It acts like a greenhouse in fact, letting heat in and with nowhere for the heat to escape. And little ones, their bodies don’t regulate heat the way adults do.

“There’s not much of a chance for a little one left in a van for two hours.”

The tragedy occurred at about 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Versailles Garden apartment complex. Miyoshi Agnew was at home in her apartment when her granddaughter told her a little boy had passed out.

Agnew went outside to a parking lot between two buildings. She saw a young woman on her phone, frantic, and an older woman screaming at that woman. There was an SUV and, standing around, about seven kids, from as young as nine months to as old as 5.

An eighth child, a little boy, was on a strip of grass, not breathing.

Agnew grabbed the phone from the young woman, talked to the 911 operators, she said, and then started doing CPR on the boy, who had saliva coming out of his mouth. After emergency crews arrived, Agnew took the seven kids inside her apartment to get them food and cold air. Two of the children were so young they couldn’t walk on their own.

“It was hot,” Agnew said. “I know it had to be in the 90s.”

Back inside, Agnew’s daughter asked one of the kids, a 5-year-old boy, what happened. He told her the 4-year-old had been left in the SUV by himself.

The woman who had been screaming told Agnew that the children had been there for some type of pool outing and the boy collapsed during a walk.

But the complex’s two pools have both been down for a month with no swimming allowed, Agnew said. And Agnew, who said she keeps an eye out on the neighborhood children, didn’t recognize any of them.

Distraught at what happened, Agnew stayed home from work on Thursday.

“It’s horrible for something like this to happen to a little 4-year-old boy,” she said.

WFOR-CBS 4 contributed to this report.

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