HOUSTON – A day care worker has been charged in connection with last year’s death of a 3-year-old boy who was left inside a hot bus.
According to court documents, 62-year-old Maurice Mitchell was charged Friday with injury to a child causing reckless serious bodily injury in the July 19, 2018, death of Raymond "R.J." Pryer Jr.
Investigators said the child was left inside the bus for Discovering Me Academy for more than four hours after returning from a field trip to Doss Park.
Prosecutors said Mitchell disengaged a passenger safety alarm and did not perform a visual inspection of the bus to ensure no children were left inside.
Investigators said they recorded a temperature of 113 degrees inside the bus when they arrived.
The day care at Antoine Drive and West Gulf Bank Road has since closed.
R.J.'s family has filed a lawsuit against the day care.
Prosecutors said a memorial bench in honor of the child was unveiled Saturday at Doss Park.
“It’s been a year, and somebody is going to be held accountable, it means the world to me actually that somebody is going to be held accountable for what happened to our son,” said Dikeisha Whitlock-Pryer, DJ’s mother.
She said last Friday they found out Mitchell had been indicted by a grand jury.
“I bawled. I couldn’t get out the tub. It took me about 30 minutes 40 minutes to get out the tub to get my stuff together. He (her husband) just held me,” Whitlock-Pryer said.
She said was worried that police would not be able to arrest Mitchell, but that all changed on Tuesday.
“I woke up this morning to the news that we had him in custody at 4 a.m. I knew that when I woke up and I was, like, ‘Bae, they have him,” Whitlock-Pryer said.
Thoughts on former day care provider disconnecting the alarm system
"There should be no way that system could be deactivated. There should be no way,” Whitlock-Pryer said.
Justice for RJ
“We’re going to trust God first, and then we’re going to trust that the justice system, that that’s what needs to be done,” Whitlock-Pryer said. “We’re going to accept what they said today and we’re going to take that and we’re going to thank the Lord for that because at least that’s a start. In my eyes, in his (her husband's) eyes and their (her family's) eyes and our hearts, it’s a start.”
Whitlock-Pryer said the family is putting its faith in the justice system.
“Now that he’s been held accountable, he’ll say more. The story will all come out on who did what and who didn’t do what, because I think it was a domino effect,” Whitlock-Pryer said. “I don’t think it was just one thing that happened that caused R.J. to die on July 19. It was a domino effect.”
Whitlock-Pryer said she’s working to change laws so that what happened to her son doesn’t happen to anyone else.
“But I know that Mr. Maurice Mitchell is probably going to be in jail less time than my son was alive. It’s not fair, so we have to start with changing the laws and changing the system and that’s the fight we’re up for. We’re not going to go away. We’re not going to go away,” Whitlock-Pryer said.
The family has set up an organization called The RJ Foundation 4 Kids to fight for cameras in daycare buses and daycares.
Doss Park Bench
R.J. spent his last day on earth at Doss Park, hours before he died.
“This park means the world to me. His presence is here. His spirit is here. I know it is,” Whitlock-Pryer said. “My baby was last right here. He was playing right there. That’s where he was last before he got on that bus and before they left him in that bus. He was alive, laughing and playing right there. This park means the world to me because I can still hear him talk. I can hear him laugh. I can hear him cry. I can hear our last conversation on July 19. I can hear him telling me, ‘Bye Mama’ waving at me. 'Bye Mama,’ he said. ‘I love you.’ I love you, too.”
On Saturday, the family held a ceremony to dedicate a bench to R.J. underneath a tree at Doss Park.
The family hopes the bench will spark conversation.
“We started with the bench. This is one of many things that we’re going to do through the RJ (Foundation) 4 Kids to save other kids, stop other families to have to go through what we’re going through because, I promise you, this is something you don’t want,” Whitlock-Pryer said.
New bundle of joy
Four months after RJ died, the family found out Whitlock-Pryer was expecting.
“I was feeling guilty: How am I going to be able to fight for R.J. while I’m pregnant with my second son? And I thank God that he has made a way. He has strengthened my body, he has strengthened my soul, obviously, to be able to carry my second son and fight for my first son. So it's bittersweet,” Whitlock-Pryer said.
The family is expecting Darnell Keshon Ra’mon Pryer, or DJay, in August.
Harris County Precinct 1 Constable's Office
Constable Alan Rosen’s office said it is giving away free placards that say, “baby in the back, look before you lock” in an effort to help with prevention.
His office also said the constable is pushing U.S. legislators from the area to support the Hot Cars Act of 2019. It would require all new vehicles to have an alarm or motion detection system indicating a child or pet might be in the back.