Police: Georgia Daycare Owner Lied About Child Left In Van For 'Several Hours'

| by Jared Keever

Authorities are investigating an Austell, Georgia, daycare, and police have arrested the facility’s owner after a parent complained that her daughter was left in one of the daycare’s vans for more than five hours on a hot day earlier this month. 

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports authorities arrested 59-year-old Melinda Hamilton, the owner of Bright Achievers Pre-K Center, Friday, on charges of reckless conduct, tampering with evidence, and making false statements. 

The arrest warrant, obtained by The Journal-Constitution, alleges Hamilton lied about how long 2-year-old Zaryaha Emile was in the van and that she tried to cover up the whole incident after a van driver notified the owner that the girl had been found in the van after an extended period of time on May 5. 

“The driver described the child as ‘sweaty’ and the child’s clothing as ‘moist’ from having been in the vehicle for several hours,” the warrant reads. “The accused did not call 911, did not transport the child to a hospital or doctor, and told the driver not to tell anyone else that the child had been left in the vehicle.”

WSB News reported that the nearby Fulton County Airport registered a high temperature of 83 degrees that day.

Authorities say Hamilton later told the employee to tell the girl’s parents that the child was only left unattended for 15 minutes. 

Zaryaha’s mother, Quantina Russell, told WSB she would have never known if an employee hadn’t called and tipped her off. 

"They told me they had taken my child to a playground on a field trip and she was only left in the van for 15 minutes, and that wasn't true,” she said. “Another teacher called me and told me not to believe it.”

Russell reportedly took her daughter to a nearby hospital after noticing she was unusually thirsty and sluggish. Zaryaha was treated for dehydration.

Russell then confronted Hamilton about the story she heard from the employee. 

That’s when the teacher allegedly offered the mother a $1,000 bribe and a job at the facility.

Russell pulled all three of her kids out of the daycare and contacted police. 

According to Hamilton’s arrest warrant, police allege that, apart from asking an employee to lie about how long the toddler was in the van, she also instructed a staff member to erase surveillance video from inside the center. 

That employee refused and, according to the warrant, Hamilton then allegedly asked a technician to remove the surveillance camera. 

The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services and the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning — the licensing agency for daycares in the state — are investigating the incident. 

Hamilton was booked into the Cobb County jail. She posted $25,000 bail and was released Saturday morning. 

Russell said Zaryaha has mostly recovered but she still has concerns.

"Sometimes she's still in a daze so I’m taking her back to the doctor to make sure she's okay," she said. 

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Sources: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, WSB News

Photo Credit: WSB News courtesy of Cobb County Sheriff’s Office