BY JOE GYAN JR.
Advocate staff writer
October 16, 2012
A prosecutor Monday dropped a negligent homicide charge against the former owner of a now-defunct Baton Rouge day-care center in the July 2009 death of a 3-year-old girl left inside a company van for nearly six hours in scorching heat outside the facility.
Betty McElveen, the girl’s mother, said her 7-year-old son — who was 4 at the time of the accident and was in the van that morning — helped her to come to peace with the decision to dismiss the charge against Wanda Connor.
“I felt like if I didn’t do something, I was giving up,” McElveen told state District Judge Mike Erwin. “But my son told me it wasn’t her fault.”
Connor, 51, was not in the courtroom Monday.
“It’s just a tragic situation. Mrs. Connor was devastated from the beginning,” her attorney, Gail Ray, said outside the courtroom. “I think that justice has prevailed.”
East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant District Attorney Charles Grey told Erwin he explained to McElveen that it is “highly unlikely” Connor would have been convicted in the death of D’Myion McElveen because she was not physically present in the van. Grey said McElveen agreed with his decision.
The judge told McElveen it is his legal opinion that it would have been difficult to prove Connor was criminally negligent.
Two ex-Wanda’s Kids World employees — the driver of the van and an aide in the vehicle — pleaded guilty last fall to negligent homicide charges and were given suspended five-year prison terms, put on probation for five years and ordered to perform 10,000 hours of community service.
Michelle Veals, the driver, and Kyandrea Thomas, the aide, are scheduled to appear Feb. 14 before Erwin for a probation review hearing. The judge also ordered Veals and Thomas to reimburse the victim’s family for their funeral costs.
Grey said McElveen settled her civil lawsuit against the day-care center and the insurer of the van.
“I am pleased that this case has now been entirely resolved in criminal court as well as civil court and that the victim’s mother and victim’s siblings can move on from today forward,” District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Monday.
“We discussed the law and the facts with her (McElveen) before deciding to dismiss the charges against the remaining defendant, the owner of the day-care. Her criminal culpability for the criminally negligent acts of her employees was a steep burden but one we were willing to attempt,” he said. “Based on the pleas of those actually negligent in the cause of death and the request of the mother of the victim, I am satisfied that justice was served for this victim, family and our community.”
Wanda’s Kids World is no longer in operation. It was located on Brady Street.
“She’s not going to do that anymore,” Ray said of Connor.
The coroner ruled the cause of D’Myion’s death was hyperthermia, or overheating of the body. Grey has said the child’s rectal temperature was 105.5 degrees after she was found in the van shortly after 2:30 p.m. She had been in the van since 9 a.m., he said.
The National Weather Service said the temperature reached 99 degrees the day the girl died.
A logbook at the day-care center indicated D’Myion was checked into the facility at 9 a.m. and checked out at 4 p.m. that day, Grey has said.
The state revoked Wanda’s Kids World’s license the day after D’Myion died, marking the fourth time the center’s license had been pulled. Wanda’s was cited four times in 2008 because staff members failed to check the facility’s van to make sure there were no children left aboard, Grey has said.
The center also was cited in May 2009 for failing to provide an adequate staff-to-child ratio while transporting children younger than 5.