The owner of a Jonesboro child care center, her daughter, and a teenage relative were charged Tuesday in the death of a 2-year-old left strapped in her car seat inside a van. The incident followed a field trip to Chuck E. Cheese.
Marlo Maria Fallings, 41, and her daughter, Quantabia Shantell Hopkins, 23, both of Riverdale, were charged early Tuesday morning in the death of Jazmin A. Green.
A juvenile, who was not identified because of her age, is also charged, said Clayton County police Officer John Schneller. Fallings owns Marlo's Magnificent Early Learning Center on Thrasher Court.
The three are charged with involuntary manslaughter, reckless conduct and cruelty to children. Fallings and Hopkins made their first appearances Tuesday afternoon in Clayton Magistrate Court, represented high-profile Atlanta attorney Bruce Harvey.
Harvey told Magistrate BobSimmons he hoped the women will be able to post their $35,000 bond. The women did not address the court. Outside of court, Harvey said the child's death is a tragedy but he questioned whether or not it constituted a criminal act.
"There is no other word to describe what happened other than a tragedy," he said. "But whether it was a crime or a tragedy, that's the issue here. There is no doubt the family expresses sympathies to the child's family."
Warrants allege that Hopkins drove Jazmin Green and seven other children in the day care's van to Chuck E. Cheese, in Fayetteville. The van returned between 1:30 p.m., to 2 p.m., and seven kids were taken inside for a nap. Sometime later, the children woke and Hopkins realized Green was not among them.
Hopkins checked the van and found Green unresponsive and still strapped in her car seat, in the most rear seat on the driver's side, the warrants allege. Hopkins allegedly told police she carried the child inside and her mother attempted CPR and called 911. The child was taken to Southern Regional Medical Center where she was pronounced dead at 4:43 p.m.
State regulations require child care centers to document after every field trip to ensure that no child remains on the vehicle used for the outing. During a state visit on March 1, inspectors noted that the center had not properly initialed or documented a field trip on Oct. 26.
Police said the two women admitted Monday to falsifying a checklist to show all children were removed from the van after the Chuck E. Cheese trip, which might show intentional negligence.
However, Harvey disagreed. "I don't know about the October violation, but a violation of a regulation does not equate to a crime," he said. "We don't know what it is yet. It may be negligence, but not a crime. The state has to prove willful and intentional conduct and that's the issue here."
A check of local court records show four minor traffic citations issued to Hopkins, from 2005, to 2010. Fallings pleaded no contest March 28, 2005, to simple battery against Dr. Rajendra K. Maharaj, on Upper Riverdale Road. Clayton County State Court records did not include details of the attack. Fallings was sentenced to 12 months on probation, 40 hours of community service, and ordered to pay a $200 fine. Her sentence was suspended May 2, 2005, after records show she completed the terms of her probation in full on April 28.