All day care vans must include a safety alarm, under a bill that passed its first Florida Senate committee earlier this week. The measure stems from the death of a young boy left in a hot van last year for almost half a day.
Around eight on a school night in August, Brenda Watts called the police to say her grandson, Myles Hill, never came home. She was expecting him to be dropped off by Little Miracles Academy.
“It’s 8:07, and they said my baby didn’t [go to school]…but, he went to the school this morning,” said Watts, at the time during the 911 call. “I gave them the payment, and signed the papers for my baby this morning. And, it’s after 8:00 [p.m.], and my baby isn’t home yet.”
Orlando Police initially worked the case as a missing child investigation. But, OPD Chief John Mina says they later found the three-year-old: Myles had been left for close to 12 hours in the day care van, with temperatures reaching to about 140 degrees.
“The day care worker picked up Myles and other kids in an attempt to drive them to the other Little Miracles Academy on 2514 West Colonial Drive,” he stated, during a press conference last year. “She returned to the day care center on Plymouth, and did not realize Myles was still in the van.”
In a released video, an OPD detective tries to open the same doors as Myles would have, if he’d tried to exit the van on his own. And, the detective shows with the locks in place, it’s very difficult to get out.
“Ugh, I’m able if I use my thumb to do it…I’m a 44-year-old male, weighing 195 pounds, and I’m using a great amount of force to get it to open,” the detective stated. “But, locked, if Myles wasn’t able to manipulate that and he wasn’t aware that the manual lock was here in a locked position, I cannot exit the vehicle.”
The head of Little Miracles Academy Audrey Thornton later apologized to the family.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” she said, in between tears. “And, I don’t want you to be upset with me. And, I love Myles and I took care of him since I was a baby, and if ya’ll could forgive me. I’m so sorry.”
Thornton has since had to close both her locations permanently. According to the Florida Department of Children and Families, the day care driver Deborah St. Charles—whose been charged with Myles’ death—never did the required headcount, and the day care has been cited before for other violations in the past.
According to Police Chief Mina, Myles became the fifth child in Florida to die last year from being left in a hot vehicle. At the time, Governor Rick Scott called it a tragedy, hinting at possible legislative changes.
“My oldest grandson is five and a half,” said Scott. “I’ve got one a little less than two-years-old. And, you just can’t imagine this happening. Anytime this happens people ought to be held accountable. You should always step back and say, ‘okay, what can we do differently, if there’s something that we can do, something that DCF or legislation that we can do to hopefully prevent this?’”
Now, Sen. Linda Stewart (D-Orlando) is carrying a Senate bill called the “Child Safety Alarm Act.”
“The bill requires day care vehicles used to transport children to be equipped with a reliable safety alarm system by 2019,” she said. “I filed this after my community was shaken by the death of Myles Hill.”
Florida ranks number two in the nation for children left alone in hot cars. And, Stewart says the least lawmakers can do is to ensure the safety of kids in child care facilities and large family child care homes.
“Sadly, horrific deaths like this always seem to happen all over the state,” said Stewart. “And, the Department of Children and Families services will test various systems to provide a list of the most reliable systems. The system described in the bill are inexpensive, but no matter the dollar involved the long term cost of horrific, repeated, and preventable instances of children dying is something that we as lawmakers in our state cannot ignore.”
While that measure passed its first Senate committee Monday, its House companion bill has not yet had a committee hearing.
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