Day care sued by family after 2-year-old boy left in hot van

The mother of a 2-year-old boy who was left locked inside a hot van for nearly two hours at a southwest Atlanta day care center is suing the business, its owner and an employee

The New Beginning Learning Center II on Sylvan Road was closed after the incident on June 8 but has since reopened.

The suit says temperatures in the van ranged from 104 to 107 degrees. When he was found, the boy’s skin was hot and sunburned, and he was sweating and covered in urine, his family said.

“The child was not only physically affected, he was also emotionally traumatized by this experience, and we will hold the parties responsible for this gross act of negligence,” Robert Bozeman, the lawyer for Renae Evans, the mother of Jeremy Smith, said Tuesday.

Jeremy was supposed to ride a day care van to and from his home, according to the suit.

Van driver Shavonda Dailey, who is named in the suit, was arrested and charged with reckless conduct and cruelty to children after she allegedly left the boy locked inside the van, then failed to check the vehicle after returning to the center at the end of the day, according to investigators who said no other employee checked the van, as state regulations require.

Pilar Chantele Lewiel, the owner, also is named in the suit.

Evans testified in a state administrative hearing that her son would typically arrive home at 3:45 p.m. She called the center at 4:15 p.m. and was told the van was running late. When the boy wasn’t home at 5:15 p.m., Evans again called the center, but no one answered. Phone records showed Evans called the center eight more times before calling 911 at 6:20 p.m.

When the boy’s grandmother arrived at the center, it was closed and no one was inside. When she looked inside a van, she saw her grandson asleep on the back seat, Delondra Evans testified. She banged on the window, shouting the child’s name and he woke up. A man in the area used a brick to break a van window, and at 6:54 p.m., Jeremy was removed from the van, according to the boy’s family.

Lewiel fired Dailey, who was released from jail June 10 on a $15,000 bond. Lewiel testified she hired additional staff and installed an alarm system for the center vans designed to help avoid leaving children behind. Lewiel also hired a new director.

Bozeman said he hopes the suit sends a message to other day care centers and helps prevent such incidents.