Sunrise child-care center shut after boy’s death in SUV

The family of Jordan Coleman, 4, who died after being left in a hot SUV, said child-care operators initially lied about what happened.

08/03/2012 5:00 AM

08/03/2012 10:10 PM

A Sunrise child-care center that is under investigation after the death of 4-year-old Jordan Coleman in a sweltering SUV has been shut down, at least temporarily, by Broward child-welfare authorities.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office, which investigates child-abuse allegations under contract with the state, ordered the closure of 3C’s Day Academy Thursday, said Dani Moschella, a spokeswoman for Sheriff Al Lamberti.

“I can promise that the death of a 4-year-old is something that our homicide unit takes very seriously,” Moschella said. “There is going to be a thorough investigation.”

“We have a family, and a lot of people with a lot of questions,” Moschella added, “and we need to answer all those questions. A family is mourning the death of a young person who just turned 4. This is a tragic loss, and we have a lot of work to do.”

As of Friday, no arrests had been made.

Meanwhile, Jordan’s family must go about the grim task of planning a memorial — instead of a birthday party — for the little boy they all called JoJo. He had just turned 4, said his great aunt, Cynthia Coleman, and had come back from a family reunion on board a three-day cruise in the Bahamas.

He was healthy and outgoing. And on Wednesday, like other days this summer, his grandmother walked him over to the day-care center in their Sunrise neighborhood. He never came home.

“Our hearts are just aching right now,” she said.

Making the pain even worse: The day-care operators initially lied to the family, saying JoJo had collapsed while playing.

Jordan was only at the day-care for the summer, Coleman said, although he had a younger half-brother and second cousin who had been going there for about a year and a half. The three were so close, the family nicknamed them the Three Musketeers.

Before Wednesday, the family hadn’t had a problem with the day-care center, Coleman said.

But at the time of Jordan’s death, 3C’s Day Academy had been under scrutiny by the Broward County Child Care Licensing division. Since the center opened in 2008, owner Cecily Roberts had been repeatedly cited for caring for more children than her license allowed, and for leaving the youngsters — some of them infants — in the care of her daughter. The daughter, Camile Gordon, was 18 when Roberts was first faulted, well below the age required to operate a day-care center.

Roberts’ last inspection was in June, and she had been cited for four violations. DCF records show investigators believe Roberts had told her daughter to hide the eight children away from her home-based day-care, because she was afraid licensing authorities would return to the house for a re-inspection and discover she remained over capacity.

Although Roberts is licensed to transport the children in her care — and has never been cited for transportation problems — she has been ticketed more than a dozen times in either Miami-Dade or Broward counties, and records show her driver’s license currently is suspended. Roberts could not be reached for comment Thursday or Friday.

Officials at both the licensing board and the County Administrator’s Office were either unavailable or unwilling to discuss their history with the child-care center Friday.

Two days earlier, on Wednesday, Jordan and his 3-year-old cousin were among the eight children whisked away from 3C’s Day Academy, at 2125 NW 72nd Ter.

The children went swimming and afterward climbed back in the 2002 Toyota Sequoia, which had no child-safety seats. They were taken to the Versailles Garden apartment complex, in the 7800 block of North Colony Circle in Tamarac, Coleman said, where the children were supposed to go inside one of the units, have a snack and take a nap.

But Jordan fell asleep in the SUV, lying down on the seat. He stayed there, Coleman said, until his cousin asked, “Where’s JoJo?”

“That’s when they realized JoJo was missing,” she said.

Jordan may have been in the SUV for up to two hours, with outside temperatures in the low 90s and likely feeling much hotter.

By the time they found him, it was too late. One woman from a nearby unit performed CPR, and paramedics took Jordan to Broward Health Coral Springs. There, he was declared dead.

Now his family is finding comfort in their faith.

“We wish we could have had more time with him,” Coleman said. “But God saw fit to take him home early.”

Coleman’s mother — Jordan’s great-grandmother — said the family had to find a way to forgive. But Coleman said it was hard, especially with the lies that the day-care employees told them at first.

They said Jordan had pneumonia, but he had gone to school a perfectly healthy boy. They said Jordan collapsed while playing, but they knew that, too, was a lie because his cousin — one of those Three Musketeers — saw what unfolded.

Now the family has to figure out how to break the news to the 3-year-old cousin, a little girl, who says “My JoJo is in the hospital. He’s getting better.”

“We haven’t told her yet what happened,” Coleman said. “Every time you mention his name, she goes into the same story of what happened. We haven’t told her yet that he’s gone.”

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