HOUSTON (FOX 26) - Will anyone face charges after a 3-year-old boy died in a hot child care center bus? It happened in northwest Harris County at the Discovering Me Academy.
Two employees from the center, who took students on a field trip on Thursday, have been questioned extensively by investigators. Those employees are not working on this Friday. In fact, no one at the center is. There’s a sign on the door which reads "closed until further notice” after three-year-old Raymond Pryer Jr. died in the parking lot.
"We are just literally disturbed over this, is a tragic death that shouldn’t have happened,” says Houston Police Department Assistant Chief Bobby Dobbins.
Detectives are documenting every detail to determine if someone should be charged after RJ, as his loved ones call him, died inside the hot Discovering Me Academy van.
“The best course of action is to do a slow and thorough investigation and make sure everything is done correctly and ultimately get it to the grand jury to decide if there’s going to be any criminal aspect to this investigation,” explains HPD Sergeant Lee Donovan.
Investigators say RJ and 27 other children were taken to Doss Park on a field trip by Discovering Me Academy employees. The boy was apparently left on the bus for more than three hours after the group returned to the center.
When the child's father arrived to pick him up at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, no one could find him. The 3-year-old boy was discovered unresponsive on the bus, which by that time, according to the Harris County Precinct One Constable’s Office, was 113 degrees inside. Law enforcement officers arrived within six minutes.
"They witnessed the scene of a child that was in heat exhaustion and receiving care from paramedics,” says Asst. Chief Dobbins.
State law requires that all vehicles that can carry more than eight passengers and were purchased in 2014 or later to have an electronic child safety alarm, which requires the driver to walk to the back of the vehicle, once it’s parked, to shut off the alarm, in turn checking the seats for children.
In 2015, Discovering Me Academy was found to be in violation by the state for not having child safety alarms in two vans but the Texas Health and Human Services Commission says the alarms were installed a month later.
Was the bus that RJ died on equipped with an electronic child safety alarm? Investigators are seeking answers from child care center employees, including the bus driver, and the chaperone who went on the field trip.
“This is a tragedy and everybody involved is sad," adds Sgt. Donovan. "Everybody involved is hurting. It’s going to take time for them to grieve. It’s going to take time to heal, including for us and everybody involved. So it’s going to be a very long process for us and for them.”
Harris County Precinct One Constable's Office investigators say child care center records show three-year-old RJ had been listed as accounted for on a checklist of students after returning from the field trip. Chief Dobbins says this should serve as a reminder to all of us to double and triple check to make sure we don’t leave a child or an elderly person in a hot vehicle.