Day care worker charged in death of 3-year-old left in hot van

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A day care worker has been charged a year after a 3-year-old boy died after being left in a hot day care van.

Maurice Mitchell has been charged with injury to a child by recklessly causing serious bodily injury or death. Mitchell was driving the van the day the toddler died.

According to court documents, 62-year-old Mitchell turned off the passenger safety alarm, which was in place specifically to avoid situations like this, without first doing a visual inspection of the van.

"He was a miracle child, a miracle child," Dikeisha Whitlock-Pryer said. "I'm 41 and his father is 43. (R.J.) is my first and only child."

Their son, Raymond Pryer, Junior, died on July 20, 2018 after returning from a field trip with his day care, the Discovering Me Academy, on Antoine around 2:30 p.m.

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Authorities say the preschooler, who also went by R.J., was on the trip with 28 other students. According to the day care, R.J. was accounted for at that time.

The Precinct 1 Constable's Office says the child was found unresponsive in the van around 7 p.m., when his father arrived to pick him up.

Deputy constables said it appeared R.J. was left in the vehicle for at least four hours. Temperatures inside reached at least 113 degrees, Constable Alan Rosen said.

"They told me he had already been picked up. But, he wasn't," Raymond said. "So, I looked around and looked around for him and when I saw the fire truck, I just took off running to the back and I had that bad feeling and I saw him."



When EMS workers arrived, they began to work on the child. He was transported to the hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.

"This was a horrible, preventable death, and no child should be put at such risk," R.J.'s parents said in a statement released by their attorney, Larry Wilson, of Houston's Lanier Law Firm.



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According to records, the day care was cited for several violations involving their van in 2015. One violation included not having an electronic child safety alarm, which is used to notify a driver that a child was left in the vehicle.

The day care was also cited for not reporting a wreck involving the van in a timely manner, and for a driver not knowing the number of children in her group.

The state revoked the operating license for "Discovering Me Academy," which is in northwest Harris County.

R.J. was described as a 3-year-old who loved shapes, singing and the color yellow.

"He has touched a lot of lives. He has been involved in a lot of people's lives and they all loved him and cared for him dearly," his mother said.

After R.J.'s death, his parents sued the operators of the day care for negligence. The day care has since closed.

SEE ALSO: Texas ranks No. 1 for child hot car deaths in the US
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