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Mother Gets $1.5 Million in Toddler's Death in Van

Mar 20, 2002 | Orlando Sentinel

Tekela Harris-Carter, whose 2½-year-old daughter died in August after being locked in a day-care center van, has received a $1.5 million settlement for the child's death.

Harris got the payment in October from the Guideone Insurance Co., which holds the policies for the Abundant Life Academy of Learning, where Zaniyah Hinson died, day-care center attorney Harrison Slaughter said Tuesday.

Harris-Carter's attorneys, Benjamin Crump and Daryl Parks, said a settlement had been reached, but they declined to give details.

However, despite the settlement, Harris-Carter and her attorneys complained that the church had taken a $30 check meant for Harris-Carter and deposited it in the church bank account.

Harris-Carter said about the $30: "I'm just disappointed to hear they don't have sympathy for me to not give me money meant for me."

However, Slaughter disputed that and said church officials had agreed to the large monetary settlement to make amends to the family. He called allegations about the $30 check "ludicrous."

On Aug. 11, 2001, Zaniyah Hinson was locked in the day-care center's van for hours after a lunchtime field trip. Court records show day-care center workers failed to count the children or to check a list of the children's names, either before or after the trip.

Prosecutors have charged the day-care center with aggravated manslaughter and Gail Besemer, the teacher who drove the van, with child neglect. Both court cases are pending, but could go to trial this summer.

Harris-Carter had lobbied the state Legislature to revise the law that makes religious day-care centers exempt from state oversight. However, that bill has been stalled in a committee, and with the legislative session ending soon, it is likely the bill will not be voted on by the entire Legislature.

Harris-Carter has not filed a lawsuit against the church or the day-care center. The settlement was reached through the insurance carrier, which has a $1 million policy on the day-care center and a $1 million policy on the van. The insurance company decided to pay out $1,516,832.29, Slaughter said.

Recently, Harris-Carter received a call from Monty and Janice Paulden of Port Orange, who said they had written a $30 check for Harris-Carter, but that the church, River of Abundant Life, had deposited it.

Slaughter said the church deposited that $30 check after Zaniyah's family refused the donations. He said Abundant Life officials received $1,000 in donations for Harris-Carter.

Crump said Zaniyah's family had never been contacted about third-party donations. Crump filed a criminal complaint about the $30 check.

Officials with the State Attorney's Office said they are reviewing the case as to whether misdemeanor criminal charges will be filed.

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