Renee Cluff

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Sentencing hearing in childcare bus death details series of failures


UPDATE WEDNESDAY 24TH FEBRUARY:

A former director of a Cairns childcare centre will spend at least 18 months behind bars over the death of a toddler who was left. on a minibus in sweltering conditions.

Michael Glenn Lewis, 45, who worked at Goodstart Early Learning at Edmonton, was today sentenced in the Supreme Court to six years' jail, but he'll be eligible for parole in August 2022.

EARLIER:

 


The court heard Lewis was driving the bus on the day three year-old Maliq Namok-Malamooui – known to his family as ‘Meeky’ – died from vehicular hypertension in February 2020.

Prosecutor Nathan Crane said a series of "disorganised and dysfunctional events" led to the failure in Lewis’ duty of care.

He detailed confusion over the staff roster for the morning bus run, a failure to initially collect the toddler, Mr Lewis’s rush to get to a meeting and breaches of the centre’s own policies and procedures, which included physical checks under and behind bus seats.

Justice Jim Henry has adjourned the court to consider the sentence, after noting that while the offending wasn’t deliberate, it was criminally negligent.

Canadian-born Lewis also addressed the court to express his remorse.

Speaking through tears, he told the family he was sorry.  

“I will never forget how he (Maliq) made me feel, such a light, so beautiful.

“From the bottom of my heart I am very sorry this happened.”

Victim impact statements from the toddler's mother and grandmother were read out to the court, detailing their grief at the loss of a little boy who brought "joy and laughter with his cheeky smiles." 

He was described as a 'softy' who loved watching the cane trains rattle by and who loved to dance.

"Days around our house were vibrant and bright," his mother Muriel Namok said.

"Life after Meeky our lives changed forever – a piece of us is always missing."


TIMELINE OF A TRAGEDY

7.36am Maliq is signed into the centre’s electronic Quik Kids system as being in attendance.

8.30am Maliq’s mother calls the centre to advise that the minibus had not arrived to pick up her son.

9am Lewis is expected at a Goodstart centre directors’ meeting at the Bayview Heights franchise.

9.20am Maliq is picked up in the minibus by Lewis and another worker at the centre, Dionne Grills. When they arrive back at the childcare centre Maliq is not removed from the bus. Lewis collects paperwork and gets back into the bus.

10.19am Lewis arrives at centre directors’ meeting. Maliq remains on the bus.

2.45pm The minibus arrives back at the Edmonton centre to collect another staff member.

Around 3pm Minibus with Lewis still driving arrives at Hambledon State School to pick up before and after school care children. Maliq is discovered dead inside the car.


The court heard the signing in of absent children at the child care centre was common practice and that Maliq had been signed in on 16 occasions he wasn’t there.

“It was a pattern,” Mr Crane said.

“The explanation for that was because Maliq’s enrolment was entirely subsidised by the government and he was only allowed a certain number of absentee days.”

“Where there was to be a check and balance that might have assisted in preventing what happened, it was ignored by Mr Lewis.”

Another check and balance the court heard Lewis ignored was a checklist system for signing children on and off the bus.

It included the driver receiving written consent from each child’s parent or guardian for the child to travel on the bus, verbal roll calls both when a child embarked and disembarked and a physical check of the bus before leaving and locking the bus.

“None of those items upon that checklist were conducted by Mr Lewis on the 18th February when he transported Maliq,” Mr Crane said.

“There were no checklist sheets there.

“(The usual driver) Marisol was on holidays.”

The court was told it would often be the case that the toddler would fall asleep on the bus.

Police have estimated that the temperature inside the vehicle, on what was a 33 degree day, would have reached 56 degrees.

Maliq was only discovered when Lewis used the bus for the pickup of after-school care children from Hambledon State School.

“When he opened up the side door to load the children into the bus he clearly saw Maliq,” Mr Crane said.

“During the triple-oh call he told the operator, ‘this kid’s dead, oh my god I’m the director of a childcare centre and the child was left on the bus all day.’

“He said to the police officers that he was in quote ‘peak rush’ and … ‘there were two of us and we both f*cking forgot him.’”

Dionne Grills, who had been on the bus during Maliq’s pickup, has had a manslaughter charge against her dropped after a court found she did not have a duty of care to the child.