MIAMI (CBSMiami) – On July 29, daycare van driver Engrid Thurston picked up Noah Sneed, 2, and nine other children, taking them to Ceressa’s daycare in Oakland Park.
She arrived and started unloading children and their bags. But a series of critical errors and lapses in judgment led to Sneed being left on the van for hours to die, according to court documents obtained by CBS4 News.
It wasn’t until 3 p.m., the court documents show, when a teacher at the school noticed Noah’s bag at the daycare and asked Thurston why he wasn’t there if his bag was. Thurston went to the van and found Sneed’s body.
Broward Sheriff’s Office investigators write in a search warrant and an arrest report that training and procedures were not only not followed by several daycare employees, including Thurston, but several employees misunderstood how the van’s alarm system was supposed to work.
According to the reports, Thurston disabled the alarm system once she arrived at the daycare rather than waiting until all the children were removed from the vehicle. Thurston told detectives that “she had never been given instructions as to the order of events to turn off the safety alarm system.” Thurston also said that “she nor any other staff member ever re-entered the van to check to see if any children were still inside but just looked inside the van from outside the van.”
Thurston told detectives that she didn’t re-enter the van “because her ‘knees and joints were aching.’”
Since 2013, Florida law requires a daycare van transporting at least 6 children be equipped with a safety alarm that is automatically engaged once the van is turned on. Once all the children are removed and the van is turned off, the driver has one minute to go to the rear of the vehicle and shut off the alarm before an alarm sounds. The intent is for the driver to be able to inspect each seat before turning off the alarm.
But the court documents say neither Thurston nor facility director Lakeila Harris understood that.
“(Harris) as well did not know the proper procedure for unloading the children being transported from the van first before turning off the van engine and safety alarm system,” the reports say.
Thurston is suspected of shutting off the alarm before the children were removed from the vehicle.
The court records also show that the facility did not have a second person check the van as required by law and that “Sometimes (the daycare) would have the older children being transported that day check the van to make sure no child was left inside.”
Court records show that there was no mandated log filled out by the van driver or by a secondary employee and that on the day Noah died the director failed to compare the list of kids transported with a list of kids who arrived.
“Director Lakeila Harris stated further that if she had done that on this day like she always did this never would have happened. She said she just didn’t do it that day,” the reports say.
However, the court records show that several employees — Harris, Thurston, and owner Linda Harris — “attended the DCF 6-hour course titled “Child Care Facility Rules and Regulations,” which went over alarm system rules and regulations.
The reports say that Linda Harris did know about the proper procedures and said she “had explained the proper procedure to employees and that there was not a second person assigned to check the van after the driver checked the van.”
BSO spoke with a former van driver for Ceressa’s, Lasona Woodard. She drove for the facility until November 2016 and told detectives that she “received no procedural information from either Linda or Lakeila Harris as to how to operate the van’s safety alarm system,” according to the reports. Woodard also said that double-checking of the van by another employee after the children were off-loaded was never done while she worked there.
Another problem, according to the BSO detectives, is that the side window tinting on the van was illegal. “This window tinting would have hampered a passerby from seeing the victim inside the van during the incident,” the reports say.
Tony Bell, Noah’s father, told CBS 4 News that he believes that if a daycare driver isn’t properly trained they should not be driving.
“That’s common sense,” he said.
BSO said the investigation continues as detectives work to determine if anyone else failed to protect Noah. The search warrant indicates that earlier this month detectives seized a number of documents, including transportation and attendance logs.