Couple files civil lawsuit for last month’s wrongful death of toddler

Lawsuit Getty RF

It's been 28 days since Raymond Pryer Jr., known as R.J., was found unresponsive in the van the night of July 20, when his father arrived to pick him up at Discovering Me Academy.

He had been left inside the day care center’s bus for more than four hours after returning from a field trip.

Law enforcement reports indicate the little boy was on an outing with 28 others when the van returned to the northwest Houston day care around 2:30 p.m. Records indicate the high temperature in the area on that date was 97, with a temperature inside the van reaching at least 113 degrees.

The lawsuit was filed by Raymond Pryer and his wife, Dikeisha Whitlock-Pryer. They’re suing the operator for negligence and that Discovering Me Academy and its employees failed to have systems in place to safeguard its students while on field trips.

“I think they need to count, recount, double check, triple check, if it takes. Maybe some sensors on your buses. Cameras,” said Pryer. “But something needs to be put in place because I never would’ve ever would’ve believed anything like this would ever happened to my child.”

Their attorney, Larry Wilson, of Houston’s Lanier Law Firm, said R.J.’s parents don't want another family to experience the death of a child.

“One thing that the family would very much like to see is that the people involved here, as part of any resolution, agree to never be involved with organized childcare again. Ever,” said Wilson. “All the sensors that we have and all that the technology can tell us today it seems to me that there ought to be ways of alerting people, especially on a bus for children, if there is still somebody on the bus when the driver leaves.”

R.J.'s mom said they were blessed to have him 1178 days.

“He was a miracle child. I’m 41, his father’s 45. He’s my first and only child and it’s a blow to our heart. He’s irreplaceable. We can’t get him back. We can’t get him back,” said Whitlock-Pryer.

She wants employees to have more training.

“Making sure that the people who are caring for our loved ones know exactly what the routine is, and there may have to be consequences for them not following the procedures,” Whitlock-Pryer said.

Wilson said lawsuit is complicated, especially if there's a criminal aspect involved with multiple employees who could be held responsible.

“It’s almost impossible to calculate damages because there is no amount of money that the family wouldn’t gladly give up if they could have RJ back,” said Wilson.

State records reveal that the day care was cited for several violations involving its van in 2015. One infraction included not having an electronic child safety alarm, which is used to notify the driver that a child has been left in the vehicle. The day care was also cited for not reporting a wreck involving the van in a timely manner, and for a driver’s failure to know the number of children in her group.

A Harris County grand jury investigation into the death is pending, while the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is conducting its own investigation.

RJ was the third heat stroke death of a child in Texas this year. RJ was the 28th child in the nation to die in a hot vehicle.

RJ had gone to the Discovering Me Academy daycare for eight weeks. He had previously been at Oakdale Private School for 17 months.

RJ's family has set up The RJ Foundation 4 Kids about hot car death awareness, education and prevention.

“This is so hard. I don’t want anybody to feel like we’re feeling right now,” said Pryer. “I’m destroyed inside.”

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