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Wake Investigators Consider Charges In Toddler's Death

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YOUNGSVILLE, N.C. — Wake County investigators are looking into whether charges should be filed in the death of a 2-year-old girl who was accidentally left behind in her church day-care van.

Investigators met with an assistant district attorney Wednesday afternoon and talked about the possibility of charges against the driver, Tim Day.

They said a decision on whether or not charges will be filed is not expected until next week. Investigators said they are waiting until the state medical examiner provides more information about how 2-year-old Ranika Clifton died.

"Does it rise to the level of being a criminal act? That's what we're hoping to gain some answers to and provide to the D.A.'s office so they can make a decision on what, if anything, needs to be done," said Maj. T.S. Matthews of the Wake County Sheriff's Office.

Investigators said a preliminary report shows the temperature inside the van where the little girl died rose to at least 104 degrees Tuesday.

The sheriff's office said Ranika had been picked up at her home around 7 a.m. Tuesday to attend the Corinth United Church of Christ day care on Highway 96, near Youngsville.

Deputies said Day, a volunteer driver, parked the Corinth Christian Daycare van at the church and left to take another van loaded with children to a nearby elementary school without taking Ranika out of her safety seat.

Deputies said Day went back to the church to get the other van Tuesday around 3:30 p.m. and discovered the girl. Rescue teams were called, but it was too late to revive her.

Cynthia Lucas, Ranika's aunt, said that her niece had attended the day care for about a month and was in good health.

"They said she was sitting behind the driver. There shouldn't have been more than six or eight kids on the bus, so how was she the only one left on the bus? There's no excuse for that," Lucas said.

Investigators said Day, a retired school-bus driver who worked for 30 years in Baltimore, is devastated by the child's death.

In North Carolina, church day cares are not licensed, but still must meet health and safety standards. Corinth Christian Daycare was inspected in May and has a good record.

The May inspection report shows minor violations: two involving records-keeping and one involving the playground's surface.

Religious day-care facilities have to follow some, but not all of the state's day care regulations. For example, the staff is not required to take continuing child education courses and corporal punishment is allowed if it is part of religious training.

All day-care facilities providing transportation must meet all motor vehicle laws including inspection, insurance, license and restraint requirements. No child should ever be left alone in a vehicle.

The day care is closed for the rest of the week.

"It was actually a decision made by the board of directors that we close today in respect to Ranika and the family remembering, and giving the staff members who are also troubled a chance to gather themselves, too," the Rev. Michael McCotter said.

Investigators say they need more informaton from the medical examiner and more information about the temperature in the van Tuesday.

Safety experts said children are more succeptible to the effects of heat.

Dr. Marilyn Hicks, director of pediatrics at WakeMed, said a child's core body temperature can increase three to five times faster than an adult's.

"They can't regulate their body temperatures as well as adults can, and they don't perspire. So when you place them in a really hot environment, they don't lose heat, they actually absorb heat," Hicks said.

Hicks said even on mild days, temperatures inside vehicles can rise to dangerous levels in minutes. For example, if the ouside temperature is 95 degress, a vehicle can get hotter than 180 degrees in less than 40 minutes.


Amanda Lamb


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