Aslyn Ryan died on Feb. 7, 2004, two days after suffering heat stroke when she was left in a hot car while her baby sitter, identified as Shawna Akin, who was in her mid-30s, was running errands around the island.
The state Circuit Court suit against Akin said she lied to paramedics and others about how she had found Aslyn and failed to tell them the girl had been left in the car, which meant doctors didn't know what to treat the child for.
The girl's parents and doctors initially believed she had suffered from a sudden illness. It wasn't until an autopsy was completed that the Ryans learned their child had died of heat stroke.
"We hope that this serves as a deterrent," said mother Deona Ryan, choking back tears at the news conference.
Timothy Ryan added, "We'd just like to prevent another family from suffering the loss we have suffered. Our daughter died almost four years ago. Every day, we deal with her loss knowing nothing happened to her (the baby sitter) and that maybe she's watching somebody else's child."
Akin was never criminally charged, as there are no laws in Hawai'i against leaving children unattended in cars. For the past several years, lawmakers have decided against passing such measures, saying parents whose children are injured because they are left in cars have already been traumatized enough.
Mark Davis, attorney for the couple, said Akin moved to Wyoming after Aslyn's death and did receive a copy of the lawsuit, but never replied. He said it is unlikely the Ryans will be able to collect any of the damages awarded.
Davis and his firm represented the couple at no cost.
The Ryans, who lived at Hickam Air Force Base, hired Akin through a referral from the on-base childcare center. However, Akin was not employed through the center, and so the facility and Hickam were not named in the suit.
The couple said the facility now has tougher screening rules for baby sitters.
It is believed Akin is now working as a nurse's assistant in Wyoming, Davis said.
The Ryans, now residents of Arizona, said they pursued the lawsuit — knowing they would likely be unable to collect any damages — as a tool to warn childcare providers and parents against leaving children in cars.
The couple have started a nonprofit in their home state to try to prevent infant hot-car deaths, and are frequent speakers at conferences and community gatherings. They will meet with Gov. Linda Lingle tomorrow to discuss ways to raise awareness about the problem in the Islands, and how to introduce legislation to criminalize leaving a child unattended in a car.
Since 2003, three Hawai'i children have died from heat stroke after being left in cars, the Ryans said.
Through their nonprofit, the Ryans pass out literature at hospitals and elsewhere to warn parents against leaving their children in cars unattended. The couple said they hope to offer educational materials soon in Hawai'i.
Aslyn Ryan was born on Feb. 1, 2003, at Tripler Army Medical Center — after the Ryans underwent seven years of fertility treatment. The lawsuit said the girl was "happy, vibrant and healthy" when Timothy Ryan dropped her off at Akin's home on Hickam on Feb. 5, 2004. The next time he saw his daughter was about 2:30 p.m. that day, when Akin called him to tell him Aslyn was very ill.
He arrived at Akin's home alongside paramedics, who found Aslyn lying on her side on a couch with a rapid heartbeat, labored breathing and a temperature of 103 degrees, according to the lawsuit.
Akin failed to tell doctors that she had left Aslyn in the car while doing errands, the lawsuit adds, so when the child went through tests at the hospital, doctors believed she was suffering from an "overwhelming infection."
"The intentional failure to disclose the information that might have saved her life cost Aslyn her life," the lawsuit says.
Aslyn was buried in Quemado, N.M., Deona Ryan's hometown.