Girl, 2 1/2, found dead in van at Delray Beach day care center

Updated: 7:05 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 5, 2010

Posted: 5:26 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 5, 2010

DELRAY BEACH A 2 1/2 year old girl was found dead this afternoon in a van outside a Delray Beach day care center.

The child was found in the rear of a day care center Ford Econoline van at about 4 p.m., said Delray Beach police spokesman Jeff Messer.

An employee of Katie's Kids Learning Center, 111 S.W. 10th Ave., is believed to have left the child in the van. Police did not immediately know who found the child, or how long she had been in the van. Today's high was 91 degrees at 1:50 p.m., according to National Weather Service in Miami.

A representative of the Palm Beach County State Attorney's office was on the scene, Messer said. The state Department of Children and Families has a Rapid Response Team onsite assisting law enforcement with the investigation, said Elisa Cramer, DCF communications director in Palm Beach County.

Messer said the parents were notified after 5 p.m. But police did not want to reveal the child's name until the parents had a chance to tell other relatives.

It was not immediately known how many children attend the day care center, but Messer said it is a licensed facility.

Katie's Kids Learning Center Inc., was formed in 2003, records show, and has locations on Southwest 10th Avenue and Northeast Third Avenue in Delray Beach and Southeast Second Street in Boynton Beach. Its president is Kathryn Muhammad and vice president is Barbara Dilthey.

Staff writer Michael LaForgia contributed to this report.

Girl, 2, found dead in hot van outside Delray child-care center
Sun Sentinel

DELRAY BEACH -- A 2-year-old girl was left inside a child-care center's van for hours Thursday before anyone noticed.

By then, it was too late.

A recently hired driver for Katie's Kids Learning Center had picked up the toddler at her home to bring her to the center, but the child never made it out of the van, according to her relatives and center workers. The employees declined to give their names.

A driver don't know if same driver found the toddler's body at 4 p.m. in the back of the 15-passenger van outside the child-care center at 111 SW 10th Ave., police said. It's unclear if the driver was the same one who worked in the morning.

Investigators say they think the child was in the vehicle for six hours.

I just want to know how this happened, said Willie Lester, the girl's grandfather. I don't care if there were 200 kids in the van. Somebody's gotta do a head count. How can you just forget somebody?

Nelder Lester, of Delray Beach, collapsed outside the center after learning of the death of her daughter, Haley.

Haley would have turned 3 in November.

She was a quiet kid; that's probably why they didn't know she was missing, Haley's great-aunt, Susan Pinkney, said.

Police on Thursday night were working with the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office and other agencies to try to determine what happened and whether charges should be filed.

Other parents raced to the center upon learning of the tragic incident, hoping to find their child unharmed.

I was so relieved to hear that it wasn't my 2-year-old, said Samantha Michel, as she hugged her toddler son. He's not coming here anymore.

Police said Katie's Kids is properly licensed. The center is owned by Barbara Dilthey and Kathy Muhammad, both of Lake Worth, according to state records.

Neither Dilthey nor Muhammad could be reached for comment Thursday.

About three dozen children die each year after being left unattended inside vehicles, according to media reports.

Haley is the 29th child to die in an overheated car this year, according to Janette Fennell, founder and president of, based in Leawood, Kan. She divided the reasons for those deaths into three categories.

In more than 50 percent of cases, caregivers literally forget their kids in the car, Fennell said. They think they've dropped them off. They think they're safe at day care and they're not.

In the second type of case, children get in the car without their parents knowing. Parents think to look in pools and other potentially dangerous areas, but forget to check their cars, Fennell said.

The third scenario, which she called the smallest category, occurs when people knowingly leave their children alone in vehicles.

Ten minutes after sitting in 80 degree heat, the inside of a car reaches 100 degrees, Fennell said, and eventually the temperature inside can climb to 50 degrees higher than the temperature outside the car.

The National Weather Service measured the temperature in Delray Beach as being in the 80s for most of the day.

Many child-care facilities implement structured plans for ensuring that all children are accounted for.

It's important to know that child care centers have rules in place for transporting children, Fennell said. One person checks them in, out, and then a manager is supposed to review the log to make sure everyone that got on the bus got off. Someone did not do their job if a child was left alone in a vehicle.

Sun Sentinel staff Researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.

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