Lawsuit filed in death of 5-year-old left in hot daycare van

Washington (T-L), Phillips (T-R), Robinson (B-L), and Taylor (B-R) (Source: West Memphis PD)
Washington (T-L), Phillips (T-R), Robinson (B-L), and Taylor (B-R) (Source: West Memphis PD)

WEST MEMPHIS, AR (WMC) - A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed in the death of a boy left in a hot van at a West Memphis daycare.

By filing the $135 million lawsuit, attorney Randy Fishman and Christopher Gardner Jr.'s mother, Ashley Smith, hope to learn more about what happened and prevent anything like this from happening to someone else.

The lawsuit names Ascent, as well as Joey Jacobs individually and as the president of Ascent. It also names the four employees charged with manslaughter in the death of the child.

"Obviously when you have the death of a young child, for those of you who have children, I'm certain you wouldn't take any number of dollars in the world for your child. I, on the other hand, actually we can't replace kids," said Fishman. "We know that's an inadequate remedy, but unfortunately, that's all the law can provide for us. And again, we're hopeful that perhaps there could be something that could come out of this situation that can raise the bar a bit so that we won't ever see an incident such as this in the future."

Christopher Gardner Jr., 5, died June 12 at Ascent Children's Health Services.

"Trying to take it one day at a time. It's hard for me. Every day I get up looking for him," Smith said.

Gardner was picked up from his family at 6:40 a.m. The van arrived at the facility at 7:20 a.m. The young boy was found dead in a booster seat more than eight hours later.

"I tear up now when I think about it," Fishman said. "This is a 5-year-old child who didn't get to the first grade."

Investigators determined four employees at the daycare were at fault. They have been charged with manslaughter.

"This would be nearly impossible, if you were paying attention, to miss this child where he was seated in the van,"  West Memphis Police Captain Joe Baker said.

Brittany Murphy, an employee at the daycare, also lives at the same West Memphis complex as Christopher's mother.

"I was very outraged because if it was my child. I don't know what I would do," Murphy said.

The lawsuit contends Ascent was "indifferent in the recruitment, hiring, training, supervision, discipline of employees," and showed a "callous disregard."

Smith said she wants the daycare closed.

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