ORANGE PARK, Fla. - Child welfare officials said a woman photographed driving a day care van with one hand holding her cellphone and the other hand holding her sunglasses last week was transporting at least 10 children.
The day care owner said they were returning from a summer camp field trip.
Tony Crisp sent the photos to News4Jax, saying they were taken as the Orange Park Preschool van was moving on County Road 220. He said it was unlike anything he'd ever seen before.
"She was driving with what looked like with her knees or something. I noticed her swerve a few times," said Crisp. "I couldn't tell for sure about kids in the back seat, but I noticed there was definitely a little girl with blonde hair in the front seat."
Crisp felt compelled to take a sequence of photos to document what he considered distracted driving that was endangering at least one child.
Crisp said he called Orange Park Preschool and was told they'd look into the matter. He said when he didn't hear back from them, he called News4Jax.
"I wanted to make sure, just to make sure they were actually going to take the steps necessary, whatever it might be," Crisp said.
John Harrell, spokesman for the Department of Children and Families, said child care licensing managers who received the pictures learned the woman had more than 10 children in the van at the time.
"The key thing we want to point out is, look, at all times, drivers of child care facilities need to be focused on the road. Do your job. Make sure you're not putting children at risk," Harrell said.
Richard Bocher, the day care's owner, said his drivers only use their phones to dial one of two numbers for the day care for emergencies, and that's what he said was happening in the photos.
Bocher said the driver -- who he said has an exceptional record as an employee -- feels terrible over the public outcry.
"She's heartbroken," Bocher said.
Bocher defended the driver, saying drivers are required by DCF to have a phone on them for emergencies, but since the incident happened, all of his drivers have signed a document saying they will only use their phones after pulling over.
"It's gonna be used for good," Bocher said. "We came up with this little piece of paper, and any day care who wants one, just call us, and maybe they won't be plastered on TV the way we were."
Crisp said his hope is to see change and awareness.
"They can learn from this and make sure it doesn't happen again. Maybe other facilities will see this and know that there are people out there keeping an eye on things like that," Crisp said.
Harrell said DCF will look into any violations from a child welfare perspective, but it will be up to police to determine if there will be any citation for texting while driving.
"What DCF has the authority to do in this situation is to determine if there's possible neglect," Harrell said. "When it comes to whether any charges will be filed, that's a law enforcement situation. Certainly we share any information with law enforcement, but ultimately law enforcement decides on any charges."
Officials with the Clay County Sheriff's Office said they will take their cue from DCF and will investigate if DCF finds any indication that children were endangered.
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