On a mid-July afternoon, a bus returned to the Discovering Me Academy day care center in northwest Houston after a field trip. Nobody noticed that one of the children, 3-year-old Raymond Pryer Jr., stayed on the bus.
Nobody found the boy, called “RJ” by his family, until his father arrived to take him home that evening, more than three-and-a-half hours later. By then, RJ had died inside the bus, which had reached 113 degrees.
As of late August, Houston police were still investigating the incident, and no criminal charges have been filed, the Houston Chronicle reports. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is also still investigating.
“It seems to me this is just gross negligence,” said Alan Rosen, the constable of Precinct 1 in Harris County, at the time. “It’s just tragic.”
In August, RJ’s parents filed a suit against the facility, seeking more than $1 million in monetary relief—but the family’s attorney told the Chronicle that “no amount of money could make up for their anguish.” The family’s main goal, they say in a website they created for RJ, is to bring attention to child safety issues in all day care facilities, as well as to the potentially deadly risk of hot vehicles.
“It is our goal to make sure that no child, elderly adult, or animal dies due to vehicular heat stroke ever again,” the website says. “We have the right to send our loved ones to a care facility and trust that the staff will uphold their responsibilities as caregivers.”
Officials have not said whether the Discovering Me Academy bus had a child safety alarm, which would have alerted the driver to search for remaining passengers before exiting the vehicle. A 2013 Texas law requires those alarms for vehicles that carry eight passengers or more and that were purchased or leased after Dec. 31, 2013—but it was unknown when the bus in question was bought or leased, the Chronicle reports.
Discovering Me Academy was cited in 2015 for not installing the alarms in two new eight-seat vans, but that was quickly corrected, according to the Chronicle.
Other events in recent months have brought attention to the issue of safety in child care institutions in Texas:
- A North Austin day care is under investigation after two toddlers reportedly escaped and ran down the street. Papa and Nana Childcare had been cited multiple times in the past.
- A Copperas Cove child care facility was placed on “corrective action” by the state after allegations of abuse.
- A San Angelo day care is under investigation after a girl’s wrist was dislocated.
A New York Times article suggests several ways parents using day care centers can ensure their children stay safe:
- Check state records: Texas makes its records on day cares publicly searchable. You can search for operations in your area and see details on past violations.
- Look for a licensed center: At the above website, you can also narrow your search to include only centers that have been licensed by the state.
- Examine caregiver-to-child ratio and turnover rate: Those figures can give you an idea of how much attention your child is likely to get, and how dedicated and satisfied the caregivers might be. A high turnover rate could be a sign of problems with the program, warns the New York Times.
- Trust your gut: There’s no substitute for an in-person visit once you’ve narrowed down the field. Interview the owner in person and ask pointed questions. “A child care center might have glowing recommendations, great online reviews and a history free of violations,” notes the Times. “But if something doesn’t feel right during your visit, listen to your instincts and — if possible — go somewhere else.”
If a member of your family has been injured, and you suspect the negligence of a child care center is at fault, don’t hesitate to contact the experienced family law attorneys at the Evans Law Firm for a free consultation to explore your legal options and learn whether you might be entitled to compensation.