MIKE MASTERSON: It happened again

Forgotten children

Can so many adults really that inattentive and irresponsible?

Apparently so, considering yet another small child died a horrible death this month after being forgotten for hours in a superheated car.

It seems like only last month that Circuit Judge Wade Naramore of Hot Springs was grieving the death of his 17-month-old son he'd accidentally left in the car as he went to work. He was acquitted of a negligent homicide charge in 2015, but that can never relieve such enduring heartbreak.

Now, at a West Memphis day-care center, authorities say 5-year-old Christopher Gardner was left an entire day in a van by four adult caregivers whose primary responsibility was to care for children.

Yet somehow, eight hours passed with not one of them noticing his absence.

Police said young Christopher was supposed to have been brought inside Ascent Children's Health Services when the transport van arrived. Yet somehow, despite protocols specifically to prevent such tragedy, he still was left to die in the superheated vehicle.

I'm not sure how something that tragically egregious and consequential could happen.

But when the ladies went to the van to take children home, there sat Christopher's lifeless body slumped in the child seat they'd strapped him into that morning.

As a result, deputy prosecutor Tom Young has filed manslaughter charges against four female employees, all in their early 40s. We'll learn how the calamity is resolved in a circuit courtroom.

Meanwhile, this case is among the worst I've ever heard of and, with summer upon us, serves as a stark reminder just how critical it is for those hauling children to always check the back seat before closing the door and walking away.

Genuine heroism

The uncertainties of life were never more obvious to me than in reading about Erik Rene Santiago-Antanio's final unselfish moments of existence as he sacrificed himself to the turbulent Arkansas River while trying to rescue children.

It had been an otherwise normal day. This 18-year-old had life's anticipations spread before him as he fished peacefully near Barling last Saturday evening when he noticed the three children struggling nearby. Two 14-year-old girls and a boy, 10, were trying with all their might to keep their heads up in the treacherous currents.

Erik dove in without regard for his own safety. He brought both girls to safety. Another man fishing nearby was entering the water to help when Erik went back for the boy, diving into the murky river never to resurface. Divers found his body the next day. The helpful fisherman did rescue the boy. So go life's endless examples of injustice and unfairness.

I know nothing of this young man's life. Yet, through his actions, I realize so much about the character behind who Erik was and what mattered to him. Like many teenagers might have done, he could have chosen to continue fishing and let the struggling children fend for themselves.

After all, these strangers created the problem with their poor decisions, not his, although theirs prompted his fatal choice. He also could have called 911, or sought another way to offer help other than diving into the water.

Erik probably would still be alive today if he hadn't ignored his own safety to help others.

So, here's a posthumous standing salute to Mr. Erik Rene Santiago-Antanio for his ultimate sacrifice on behalf of strangers since clearly he perceived it to be the right thing to do.

Because of people like young Erik, I remain convinced of higher divine origins for we humans, even when we so regularly fall far short of our spiritual potential.

Make no mistake, valued readers. Such loving heroism stems solely from deep within the human spirit.

Now the city

The recent decision by a circuit court judge that found the Fort Smith School Board violated the Freedom of Information Act by conducting official business via emails has led to a similar lawsuit alleging city departments have been doing the same thing.

The "transparency tenacious" attorney Joey McCutchen now has trained his sights on the city board, claiming it is transacting business via email without required public notice and outside the public eye.

The suit on behalf of Fort Smith resident Bruce Wade alleges the law was violated in a series of emails "regarding the Police Department and Civil Service Commission disseminated by two Fort Smith City Directors to the entire Board of Directors between May 21, 2017, and May 31, 2017."

McCutchen said "the emails demonstrate a pattern of engaging in secret discussions about matters that are required to occur in a public meeting. There was no notice of the meetings and the public was deprived of the opportunity to participate and view the discussions."

I've previously said it wouldn't surprise me if municipal boards and public commissions subject to the Freedom of Information Act were doing considerable public business in this manner statewide. So what's happening in your own community?


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Editorial on 06/25/2017

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