A 5-year-old boy found dead in an Alabama driveway Monday afternoon died after being left in a daycare van for hours by the woman charged with his care, court records show.
The body of Kamden Dewan Johnson, of Mobile, was found by an 11-year-old girl walking home from her bus stop with friends. Police investigators later that day questioned Valarie Rena Patterson, 46, who worked as a van driver at Community Nursery & Preschool Academy, where Kamden had been enrolled for two weeks.
Their investigation led detectives to charge Patterson with manslaughter and abuse of a corpse.
Court documents obtained by WKRG in Mobile confirm that police believe Kamden died after being left inside the van Patterson drove for the preschool. The criminal complaint on the corpse abuse charge states that she abused Kamden’s body by “knowingly treating the corpse in a way that outraged ordinary family sensibilities, to-wit: discarded the body of Kamden Johnson on the side of Demetropolis Road.”
Officials have not said if heat played a role in Kamden’s death, but the high temperature Monday in Mobile reached at least 92 degrees. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that temperatures inside a vehicle rise rapidly and that, with an external temperature of 80 degrees, the temperature inside a vehicle can rise to above 120 degrees in an hour.
With a temperature like that in Mobile the day Kamden died, the temperature inside of a vehicle would reach more than 130 degrees in that same time frame.
Kenya Anderson, director of the daycare, previously told AL.com that Kamden had boarded Patterson’s van that morning, shortly after his mother dropped him off, for the ride to one of the other facilities run by the preschool’s parent company, Community Church Ministries. When Patterson returned after her afternoon van run, she said Kamden had not been on the return trip, Anderson said.
Anderson told AL.com she was about to call Kamden’s mother to ask about him when police -- who were already investigating the discovery of Kamden’s body -- arrived to question Patterson.
During a bond hearing in the case Thursday, Assistant Mobile County District Attorney Jennifer Wright argued that the charges against Patterson were warranted because “he (Kamden) was in her care at the daycare in the van with her, and we believe while under her care that he died, and then his body was disposed of,” AL.com reported.
Patterson’s bond amount on the manslaughter charge was set at $60,000. Bond on the charge of abuse of Kamden’s body was set at $15,000.
AL.com said that Patterson was ordered to have no contact with children outside of her own immediate family, and that she refrain from contact with Johnson’s family.
Patterson remained seated during the hearing due to what was described as serious health complications, AL.com reported. She had to be removed from the courtroom in a wheelchair after her hearing because she reportedly had a seizure.
Her lawyer, Christine Hernandez, told reporters that her client is undergoing chemotherapy, but did not detail the reason for the treatment.
Kamden’s mother, Jasmyn Williams Johnson, on Wednesday filed a civil lawsuit against Community Nursery & Preschool Academy, Community Church Ministries, owners Carl and Angela Coker and Anderson, the director of the preschool.
The lawsuit, also obtained by WKRG, accuses the defendants of negligence in their care of Kamden and in their training of staff members, as well as a failure to implement and follow policies and procedures to ensure the safety of their young students. It also cites negligence in the hiring of Patterson, who had worked at the daycare for a few months prior to Kamden’s death.
The suit accuses the daycare of failing to properly screen and conduct background checks on Patterson, who police have said has an extensive criminal history.
An AL.com report pointed out, however, that Community Nursery & Preschool Academy, because it is operated by a church, does not fall under state oversight. Because of that, the daycare is not required by law to conduct a background check on Patterson or any of its workers.
The criminal complaints against Patterson list a number of aliases she allegedly used in the past. Wright on Thursday gave the court an overview of the criminal charges she’s faced since 1991, many for theft, in Mobile County.
She also had a conviction for grand theft auto in Escambia County, Florida, according to AL.com. She served 11 months on a four-year split sentence and was placed on three years’ probation.
Patterson was also convicted of first-degree theft of property in 1999 and was sentenced to seven years in prison. It was not immediately clear what time she served in that case.
Some of her arrests over the years included charges of driving without a license, failure to appear in court and being a fugitive from justice, AL.com reported.
She also had at least one arrest for negligent driving, in which she had unrestrained children in the vehicle. It was not clear if she was ever convicted on any of those charges.