WMC in Memphis reports that four people have been charged with manslaughter in the death of Christopher Gardner Jr., 5, who was left in van all day at Ascent Children’s Health Services on Monday.

Reported the station:


West Memphis Police Chief Donald Oakes said four people could have stopped the child’s death had they done their jobs and checked on the van.

The four have been identified as a van driver, van rider, transportation supervisor and the “director’s designated transportation safety inspector.”

The center is part of a company headed by state Rep. Dan Sullivan of Jonesboro, a conservative Republican whose only legislative achievement in 2017 was stripping the Arkansas Early Childhood Commission of regulatory authority over daycares such as his. The center where the child died is closed this week because of a bacteria outbreak that has left dozens sick.


UPDATE: I received today a batch of Health Department e-mails about the growing problem with the bacteria shigella at the Ascent center in West Memphis. Despite efforts to contain the growth of cases, the number kept growing. By Friday, June 9, the Health Department said it had 37 “probable/confirmed” cases out of roughly 100 staff and children at Ascent. That led to a recommendation from Dr. Dirk Haselow, the state epidemiologist, to close the center for a week. “We are continuing to see high numbers of new cases including a few potential reinfections. It would only be the second time in six years I”ve recommended closing anything. It is owned by state Rep. Dan Sullivan. Are you OK with it and would you like us to employ or for you to be involved in any enhanced communications.”

This email, under subject line “sensitive day care outbreak,” went to top officials at the department including the director, Dr. Nate Smith.


Later Friday, Catherine Waters, the outbreak response section chief, reported that she and Haselow had spoken with Sullivan and he was “very cooperative and appreciative of our help.” Her note said “we” had decided on notifying parents Monday, June 13, of a closure beginning Wednesday, June 15, with reopening Monday, June 19.

“While we had wanted to close sooner, we discussed with Rep. Sullivan and he expressed concerns of allowing time for the parents to find alternative care options and still provide needed
therapy for these children.”

After receiving this note, Department Director Nate Smith informed Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s chief of staff, Alison Williams, of the development:

Alison, this is the situation I mentioned to you briefly after the meeting with the Governor this afternoon. This daycare is located in West Memphis and is owned by Rep. Sullivan. They continue to have cases of shigella (severe bacterial diarrhea that spreads very easily from person to person) despite good adherence to traditional isolation and exclusion recommendations. They now have 37 probable/confirmed cases out of roughly 100 staff and attendees.

Earlier in the day, a note from Health Department Director Nate Smith on Friday, June 9, had underscored the sensitivity of an issue involving a legislator.

“Let’s discuss with Rep. Sullivan first so that he understands the situation, our rationale for recommending closing and his potential liability if the daycare remains open. We should also coordinate with him on a communication strategy. Pleae, keep Ann [Purvis, deputy director] and Robert [Brech, chief financial officer] in the loop on this and keep me updated.”

The child who died in the van died Monday.  The center would not have been open that day had the center been closed last week.


The information provided doesn’t indicate where the Ascent facility was on staffing on Monday. But the illness had created problems earlier, one e-mail indicated. On May 9, an e-mail reported on an Ascent worker with suspected shigella who became ill and wasn’t in that day. “This is not her normal job. She is having to help out due to them being short-staffed.”

I’ve been unable to reach Sullivan for questions about staffing on the day the child died and to talk to him further about delaying the closure of the facility.