The CEO of a child care facility that fired four employees after a special needs child died in a hot van, is a state lawmaker who aggressively advocates for less regulation of child care in Arkansas.
5-year-old Christopher Gardner, Jr. died last Monday. Ascent Children's Health CEO Dan Sullivan said the child would still be alive if the employees followed company policies and procedures. He met with the family of the child last Wednesday and offered to pay for the funeral expenses, according to WMC-TV. Christopher's family said he had undergone two heart operations in his life and had been attending Ascent since he was a year old for help with developmental issues, according to NBC News.
"It didn't take them but two minutes or one minute to go back and get off their lazy asses and go see where they kids at,” says Carrie Smith, the grandmother of Christopher Gardner in a KATV report. “They didn't check for my grandbaby."
A statement released by CEO Dan Sullivan reads in part "...we know our staff did not follow company policies and procedures, and if they had, this tragedy would not have occurred. We will continue to reach out to the family to see how we can be of assistance during this difficult time."
Last April, Sullivan appeared before the Arkansas Early Childhood Commission and requested it reduce a new requirement that 50% of all child care employees be certified in CPR and first aid. Act 576 stripped the commission of its authority to regulate child care centers, according to KATV. It was the only bill sponsored by Sullivan that became law during the 91st General Assembly. Sullivan told a House committee in February that the child care industry is vastly over regulated.
Meanwhile, the investigation into the child’s death continues.
West Memphis Police Captain Joe Baker said the daycare workers avoided several protocol steps that could have prevented the tragedy.
"The things they did to bypass protocol were negligent, reckless and against protocol," Baker told CNN.
Four women have been charged in connection with the death. The van's driver, 42-year-old Felicia Ann Phillips, and three other employees, Pamela Lavette Robinson, 43, Kendra Washington, 40, and 43-year-old Wanda Taylor have been charged with manslaughter.
The women found the boy dead inside the van when they went to load children into it. The boy was still sitting on his booster seat. According to police, he had removed his socks, shoes and shirt. Baker said the van doors were heavy and the sliding door was childproof, so it was impossible for the boy to get out. It was 91 degrees outside when he died.
"They need to explain why and how they let this happen to my child," the boy's mother Ashley Smith told CNN affiliate WMC.