Broward County

Driver of daycare van where 2-year-old died in July is arrested on manslaughter charge

2-year-old boy found dead in a hot van at Broward daycare center

A two-year-old died July 29, 2019, in a hot van outside Ceressa’s Day Care & Preschool in Oakland Park, the Broward Sheriff's Office said.
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A two-year-old died July 29, 2019, in a hot van outside Ceressa’s Day Care & Preschool in Oakland Park, the Broward Sheriff's Office said.

Engrid Thurston, 46, was arrested Friday on a charge of manslaughter in the death of 2-year-old Noah Sneed, who died after being left in a daycare van for five hours on July 29.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office did not say whether anyone else would also be charged. Thurston was arrested Friday morning at her Lauderhill home.

Noah’s family sees the arrest as a step toward justice.

“We’re very happy that an arrest has been made, but we want to know what is going to happen to the director and owner,” Teresa Brown, 51, Noah’s great-aunt, said Friday. “We always wonder what took them so long. They dragged their feet.”

The mother of Noah Sneed, the 2-year-old boy who died after being left in a hot van at Ceressa’s Day Care and Preschool, an Oakland Park daycare center, said she wanted ‘justice’ for her baby.

Thurston was driving the van for Ceressa’s Day Care & Preschool, which she takes every day to pick up and drop off the Oakland Park Center’s students. On July 29, she picked Noah up around 9 a.m. and arrived at the daycare a half-hour later.

Noah was not found by a staffer until about 3 p.m. By then it was too late. He became the 25th child to die in the U.S. in a heated vehicle, according to KidsandCars.org, which tracks these incidents. Sixteen children have died since Noah’s July 29 death.

A report by the county’s Child Care Licensing Enforcement revealed that she told investigators she did not properly use a child safety alarm. She said she turned the alarm off before checking to make sure all seven children had gotten out of the van that morning, which is against a county ordinance.

The report also found that there was no transportation log, attendance was not taken that day at the center, and Noah was strapped into the van without a car seat. The center voluntarily surrendered its license, and has been permanently shut down since the incident.

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A photo of Noah Sneed is held during a gathering to honor his life with a candlelight memorial in front of the Ceressa’s Daycare & Preschool center, Tuesday, July 30, 2019. Michael Laughlin South Florida Sun Sentinel

It is unclear how long Thurston had been working for Ceressa’s or how long she had been driving the van. Brown, Noah’s great-aunt, said that Thurston has been driving the morning route since the start of the summer, and before that was responsible for dropping the children off in the afternoon.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office said Friday that through the investigation detectives confirmed Noah had been picked up at 9:02 a.m. to be taken to the daycare.

“Upon arriving at the daycare, Thurston disengaged the van’s safety alarm before removing the children from the vehicle,” BSO said in a news release. “Noah was left inside.”

On Aug. 30, the Broward medical examiner determined Noah “died from hyperthermia as a result of being left inside the van unsupervised for an extended period of time.”

Lakeila Harris and Linda Harris, officials for the daycare, could not be reached for comment Friday. Thurston could not be reached, and no attorney was listed.

This is not the first time a daycare worker has been charged with aggravated manslaughter after a child died in a hot van. In 2016, 2-year-old Angel Matute-Chavez died after being left for at least six hours inside a van operated by the Vision of Life Academy, 4150 NW Seventh Ave. in Miami. Karen Julissa Aviles, 36, who was the owner, was charged with Angel’s death. Her case is still pending.

In 2015, a Homestead daycare driver pleaded guilty to manslaughter for the 2011 death of 22-month-old Dominicue Andrews. Dominicue died after being left in a transport van for Jomiba Learning Center. Lelier Perez Hernandez was sentenced to six months in jail and seven years of probation.

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