The manager of a Cairns childcare centre has been released on bail after appearing in court charged with the manslaughter of a three-year-old boy who died after being left on the centre’s minibus.
The Cairns Magistrates Court heard Michael Glen Lewis, 45, was also the driver of the bus on which the boy was found dead outside the Goodstart Early Learning Centre in the southern Cairns suburb of Edmonton last Tuesday.
Senior Sergeant Maynard Marcum read the court a transcript of the triple-0 call Mr Lewis made to the authorities after finding the dead boy.
“Oh my God, this kid is dead.
“Oh my God. I’m the director of the childcare centre.
“The child was left on the bus all day.
“I’ve just opened up the bus and he’s here, dead.
“… I’m so sorry buddy.
“I’m going to jail, this is my fault.
“Oh my God. My whole life is over.”
The court heard Mr Lewis initially forgot to pick up the boy from his home.
He dropped off a bus-load of children to the centre and doubled back, picked up the boy from his home and drove about 4.5 kilometres back to the childcare centre at 9:15am, the court heard.
The boy was the only child on the bus and was seated two seats behind Mr Lewis.
The court heard the boy was left on the bus while Mr Lewis went inside the centre.
Mr Lewis then drove to another centre across town for a meeting that took several hours.
At 3:16pm, Mr Lewis found the boy dead in the bus outside Hambledon State School.
‘This child was forgotten’
Senior Sergeant Marcum said it appeared that Mr Lewis — a father of three — failed to manually sign in the victim when the child got on the bus.
However, the child was signed in on the centre’s computer system as being present, despite never arriving.
“This is an act of criminal negligence, appalling in its nature,” Senior Sergeant Marcum said.
“In that 4.5 kilometres, this child was forgotten.
“There wasn’t even a cursory glance.”
Mr Lewis sat in the dock with his head down during the proceedings.
Casual worker also charged
A casual employee who had been working at the centre for less than a month was also granted bail after facing court for manslaughter over the boy’s death.
Childcare worker Dionne Beatrice Grills, 34, was granted bail after a brief appearance
Ms Grills’ lawyer, Jacqui O’Reilly, said her client would not have contact with witnesses, any staff from the Goodstart Learning Centre or her co-accused and was not a flight risk.
“She has ties to the region, her fiancé is here and works in the area,” she said.
Outside court, Acting Detective Inspector Jason Smith said the pair were charged yesterday afternoon after a week-long investigation.
“The family is … distressed and very upset about this and hopefully now that the matter is before the court, they’ll get the answers that they need,” he said.
“This is the culmination of a week-long investigation and we are grateful for the assistance of specialist detectives from Brisbane and Townsville.
“During the investigation, police have liaised with the family and in fact, their broader family in Bamaga and Townsville.
“The staff from Goodstart Early Learning did provide detectives with assistance and at this stage, no-one else is under investigation.”
In a statement, Goodstart said it had stood aside two educators from its Edmonton centre after the charges.
Last week, the company suspended its national minibus service after the death, to review its processes and procedures.
‘We’re all distraught’
One of the boy’s relatives, Thomas Namok, who lives in Sydney, said the family was deeply saddened by the tragedy.
“We’re all distraught at the moment. We just can’t believe this has happened. We just want answers,” he said.
“The last few days have just been terrible but everyone [in the family] will continue to support each other.
“He was just a cheerful little boy … we would always laugh every time he’s around. That’s what I remember of him. It’s going to be sad he’s not going to be around anymore.”