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DCF investigates day care after girl, 4, left in van for hours

Mom says daughter was never dropped off; day care says driver has been fired

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Department of Children and Families is investigating a local day care after a mother says her 4-year-old daughter was left in the back of a van for hours Tuesday night.

Monica Weaver said her daughter could have died from heat stroke, but thankfully is doing OK.

The owner of the day care, Chatman's Christian Academy on Loenid Road on the Northside, said the employee who left the girl in the van without noticing she was there was terminated.

Police said Louis Riles admitted to lying to officers about whether he dropped the girl off with her family.

Weaver said her daughter is usually dropped off at home with her grandmother around 4:30 p.m. each day. Weaver said when she got home around 6 p.m. her daughter was nowhere to be found.

"We looked for her through my house, through the neighbor across my street's house," Weaver said.

Weaver called the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, and officers responded to the home on Dolphin Avenue. Air units and K9s were requested in the search.

A neighbor knew the owner of the day care and called her.

"The driver of the day care comes back to the scene. And when he came back, we asked if he dropped her off. He gave us this story about how he drops her off and he gave her to my mother," Weaver said.

According to a police report, "Mr. Riles advised he dropped (the girl) off in front of her residence" at about 5 p.m.

Weaver's mother said that was not true. Weaver said she asked officers to search the van, and that's when her daughter was found asleep in the back seat.

"She saw my baby laying on the seat and he was just like in awe, in shock. He couldn't believe that she was actually in there," Weaver said.

The little girl was not harmed. 

"All she knows is she took a long nap," Weaver said. "When she woke up, she said she just wanted something to drink."

In the police report, an officer wrote, "I asked Mr. Riles if he lied about dropping (the girl) off and he said yes ... Riles said he lied to us because he was scared."

Police said Riles even went to Home Depot and put lawn equipment in the back of the van but didn't notice the girl sleeping.

No charges have been filed against Riles.

Department of Children and Families spokesman John Harrell said two teams of DCF employees are investigating the incident, which is a potential Class 1 violation, the most serious type. He said the day care has been open since 2001 and had no previous Class 1 violations on record.

"A child care facility should never leave a child in a car for a moment," Harrell said. "That's a major safety concern. The facility should have a second party (someone else) other than the driver also do a check of the vehicle to make sure there are no children in the car."

Harrell said the day care had six previous paperwork-related violations -- five in 2013 and one in 2014.

Riles did not respond to calls for comment.

The day care owner, Mary Chatman, said she has been working in child care for 26 years.

"I've been so upset, (I) haven't been able to sleep all night this has disturbed me so," Chatman said.

She said Riles was immediately terminated.

"If he is fired, then that's great, because that means it won't happen to another child," Weaver said. "It won't happen again."

Weaver said regardless, her daughter won't be attending Chatman's day care anymore.