Miami-Dade County

Daycare where toddler died in van was not registered to transport children

Angel Matute-Chavez
Angel Matute-Chavez Family photo

Had Angel Matute-Chavez ridden in a daycare van registered with the state, the driver would have been required to keep a detailed log of his pick-ups and drop-offs.

That’s not all. A second employee would have needed to sweep the van to double check for left-behind kids.

But the van used by Miami’s Vision for Life Academy was never registered to transport children, the state said Thursday. And Angel, a playful 2-year-old with big brown eyes, was left in the daycare’s sweltering van for at least six hours on Wednesday, dying a horrific death, authorities said.

When Miami paramedics arrived Wednesday afternoon, Angel was foaming at the mouth and bleeding from his ears and nose. He was rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center, where he was pronounced dead.

“What a barbarity,” said his aunt, Lorena Chavez, fighting back tears. “He was such a beautiful child. Very happy, very playful.”

The hot-car death has sparked an investigation into the daycare’s practices — a law-enforcement source told the Miami Herald that the school didn’t have a formal child check-in system, and employees believed Angel stayed home with his mother that day, even though his older brother was in attendance.

A child that was left in a van outside of a daycare in Miami.

The death also raises questions about daycare’s oversight by the Florida Department of Children and Families, which performed a routine inspection on the daycare last year. It was unclear if the facility was using the van at the time, and if it would have been parked there during the July 2015 inspection.

“We are devastated by the loss of Angel Gabriel Matute-Chavez and grieve with all those who loved him,” DCF said in a statement Thursday. “DCF has opened a child death investigation and will assist law enforcement in any way needed.”

Vision for Life Academy, 4150 NW Seventh Ave., had no major violations in the past and has now been closed, according to DCF, which regulates child-care facilities.

One of the daycare operators, Karen Julissa Aviles, 36, referred calls to the school’s attorneys. Her lawyer said she is “completely devastated.”

“She has dedicated the last 13 years of her life to the care of children, and she is in shock,” lawyer Justin Beckham said in a statement. “We have reached out to the city of Miami Police Department in order to cooperate fully with their investigation. She wishes to specifically express her deepest condolences to the child’s family.”

Miami police homicide detectives are still investigating potential charges — which could include manslaughter — as they await the results of an autopsy.

Family described Angel as a jovial toddler who preferred his toy cars to watching television. Angel’s mother, a restaurant cook and native of Honduras, has two other children, including an 8-year-old son who was also at the daycare but was not left in the van.

The boy’s family was stunned to learn that the daycare was not allowed to transport children.

Lorena Chavez said her sister used to take her children to another daycare owned by the same woman. But the facility closed, and that location instead became a pick-up spot for children being ferried to Vision for Life.

Records show that Aviles also owned the nearby Bethel Early Learning Center, which is no longer open. Exactly why it closed its doors was unclear Thursday.

According to a law-enforcement source, the driver picked up the children Wednesday morning and later admitted she rushed into the center because she was late for a meeting. Another employee was tasked with bringing the children into the facility and missed Angel.

The daycare apparently had no formal child-tracking procedures, so the employees believed Angel was home with his mother. The older brother apparently never alerted staff that his younger brother had stayed in the van.

Angel was not discovered until another employee, just before 4 p.m., went to the van and found the boy. He immediately summoned Miami-Dade Fire-Rescue.

According to a tracking of heatstroke deaths of children in cars by Jan Null, a San Jose State University research meteorologist, Angel is the fifth such fatality in Florida this year and 33rd nationwide. Last year, Null tracked four and 24, respectively.

In an email to the Miami Herald, Null said Wednesday’s high temperature of 92 degrees could translate to 135 degrees air temperature inside the car.

“Objects or a person inside the car in direct sunlight would have been significantly hotter,” Null wrote.

Transporting children to and from daycare is supposed to be strictly regulated. State regulations require drivers to keep logs detailing when each child gets in and out of the vehicle, as well as logs attesting to visual inspections after the kids are all dropped off. Under the regulations, a second employee is also supposed to “conduct a physical inspection and visual sweep of the vehicle to ensure that no child is left in the vehicle.”

Angel’s death is similar to a case in Homestead that ended a year ago this month. Daycare van driver Lelier Perez Hernandez pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the 2011 death of 22-month-old Dominicue Andrews.

Perez Hernandez didn’t account for Dominicue, who had fallen asleep in a car seat, when he unloaded the van at the Jomiba Learning Center. When he discovered his mistake hours later, Perez Hernandez placed Dominicue’s body on concrete outside the school. A school staffer found the dead child.

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal