Grand jury will decide on charges in death of child left on day care bus, police say

By Andy Cerota - Anchor/Reporter, Sofia Ojeda - Anchor/Reporter, Cory McCord - Digital News Editor

HOUSTON - A grand jury will ultimately decide whether charges will be filed in connection with the death of a child who died Thursday after being left inside a day care bus after a field trip to Doss Park, police said.

Officials said 3-year-old Raymond Pryer was left inside a day care van at Discovering Me Academy in the 8000 block of Antoine Drive from about 2 p.m. until about 6:30 p.m. without ventilation.

The staff didn't realize it until Pryer's father came to pick up his son. 

"Every day, I see the bus come in and, diligently, the drivers drop the kids off and count them. You know, when they’re loading them, they’re counting them on and off the bus," Kenneth Brooks said. "On this particular day, I saw them get off the bus and she was just ushering them off the bus."

When found, Pryer was unresponsive, authorities said.

An ambulance was dispatched to the scene at 6:45 p.m.

Police got the call at 6:56 p.m. and when officers arrived at 7:02 p.m., paramedics were treating Pryer for heat exhaustion. 

He was pronounced dead at the hospital at 7:45 p.m.

"A father arriving here to pick up his beloved child only to find out that they’re looking around for him," Constable Alan Rosen said. "I just can’t. I just can’t imagine."

Rosen said Pryer didn’t get off the bus with the other children.

READ: Ways to prevent hot car deaths

The temperature recorded on the bus was 113 degrees.

"A few hours later, I saw the owner come out and I saw a gentleman with her and they were just screaming and hollering. Right then, I knew something was wrong," Brooks said.

The driver and a chaperone were detained for questioning, according to authorities. Records showed that Pryer had been accounted for upon return to the day care.

Whether employees checked the bus or conducted a head count to make sure all the children were off the bus and accounted for is now under investigation. 

Police are also hoping to talk with the other 27 children who rode the bus on the field trip.

Police plan on looking at everything, including the backgrounds of the bus driver and a chaperone who accompanied the children on their field trip. 

Police said they're in the process of gathering surveillance video, which they hope will help them as the investigation moves forward.

"We're aware of videos. We're still actively getting them all and bringing them in and if there's anything the public has to help us, we'll obviously take it. But that's still part of the gathering phase. To start, as I said, still less than 24 hours, so a lot of work to be done and it's going to take a while to get it all done, but this is without a doubt a tragedy for the city of Houston," Lt. Patrick LeBlanc said.

The day care was closed Friday. Some parents and workers said no notices were sent out. A sign posted on the door that read, "Closed until further notice."

"It's so sad, so sad . It was a pretty nice day care. It's just a sad situation. I can't imagine anyone not trying to get the kids off the bus. I couldn't imagine that. That it's just so sad," said Sharon Griffin, whose nieces and nephews went to the day care.

Houston police are waiting for the results of the little boy's autopsy.

The Department of Family and Protective Services released a statement Friday, saying it "will investigate whether or not neglect occurred in this case, and we will also investigate the day care operation for any deficiencies in state standards. Findings from our investigation will be turned over to the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), the state agency that licenses and regulates day care in Texas."

The day care has declined to comment. 

State inspection records show the day care center has a history of violations, with seven deficiencies, two of which were listed as high risk in 2015.

According to DFPS, during the inspection, it was found that the van did not have an electronic child safety alarm equipped in the vehicle as mandated by the minimum standards requirement.

DFPS said the alarm prompts the driver to inspect the vehicle to determine whether children are on board before the driver exits the vehicle.

Vehicles purchased or leased after 2013 are required to have the safety technology, according to DFPS.

Rosen said he’s less worried about possible negligence charges than he is about the child’s heartbroken family.

"I’m going to the hospital as I leave here. I’m going to the hospital to ease their pain," Rosen said.

Rosen said the tragedy was completely avoidable and should serve as a reminder to all parents to double-check their vehicles before they get out of them.

VIDEO: Houston police discuss case

The office of Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg released a statement Friday afternoon that read, "The Houston Police Department is investigating this death in coordination with the child fatality unit of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. All evidence will be presented to a grand jury. This tragedy is a stark reminder of the vulnerability of children and our responsibly to ensure their safety."

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